CLEMSON, S.C. — A Six Mile, S.C., native will ride his bicycle coast to coast this spring to raise awareness of veterans’ issues.
A crowd of more than 100 students, veterans and well-wishers gathered Friday afternoon in the Scroll of Honor Memorial across from Memorial Stadium to send off Tom von Kaenel on the Sea2Sea 2014 Challenge. Von Kaenel’s ride will take him from Key West, Fla., to Juneau, Alaska — a four-month trip covering 7,000 miles. A 2011 ride took him from Washington State to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
“From my perspective, I’ve got to do something, and this is what I’m doing,” von Kaenel told the crowd.
The Army veteran was inspired to work on behalf of returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers after recuperating in a U.S. military hospital in Germany in 2010 from injuries suffered during a vacation in the French Pyrenees mountains. After he recovered, he dedicated himself to raising money and awareness for organizations that serve the needs of this newest generation of American combat veterans.
Von Kaenel also shared the story of Jason Scott Roth, a Marine lance corporal who took his own life last fall after waiting more than a year for mental health treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He said almost one veteran takes his or her own life every hour on average because of being unable to get needed help and being unable to adjust to life back home.
One old friend showed up unannounced Friday to show his support for von Kaenel’s work for military veterans.
“I know Tom puts a lot of heart in it,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham told the crowd. “I think most of us wish we could do more. We’re all trying to figure out what we can do.”
The ceremony included the reading of over 90 names of Upstate soldiers who have died serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and a rifle salute. The names were read by cadets from the Clemson Corps, the university’s ROTC program.
Von Kaenel shared the podium with volunteers from various Upstate groups working to help local veterans transition back to civilian life, including JD-3 Veterans Organization (www.JD-3.org), Upstate Warrior Solution (www.upstatewarriorsolution.org) and Honoring Their Service, a Keowee Key effort that can be found on Facebook.
Anyone wanting to track von Kaenel’s progress or learn more about helping returning veterans should visit sea2sea.org.