CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Members of the PA Hero Walk, a non-profit focused on helping veterans, walked through Chambersburg on Saturday, at about the halfway point of their 320-mile journey.
There are 12 core walkers who will attempt to walk the stretch from Philadelphia to New Kensington along U.S. 30, according to Al Pulice, founder and director of the event.
"It's been a great experience so far," he said. "We lost two walkers due to injuries, but we are doing good."
Around the neck of a walker are the "dog tags" of 1st Sgt. Brian Coutch.
Coutch, an Army veteran, walked every year with the group, but passed away this March after falling in his home. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery with full military honors.
Every walker took turns carrying the tags through the journey.
Steps were also being taken this year by his twin brother Jeff, sister Kris, and Gage, Jeff's son,in his honor.
"This is my way of trying to fill his shoes," said Jeff, of New Kensington. "But there's no way I can come close."
He said he is going to try and do the entire distance, just like his brother.
"I walk every day at work, but nothing prepared me for this," said Jeff. "Today was a hard one, a 26 mile day."
But the hardest part, he said, is always the last three miles of the day.
"It's hard, but I feel like I'm walking in his footsteps," he said.
Michael "Bish" Bishop Rieg, Lansdale, has done the walk in its entirety since it began six years ago.
Rieg, who served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1970, said that anyone who is interested in walking, should try it for a day.
"It's all about getting involved," he said.
He has started walks in his hometown in Montgomery County and said that this year, they raised $100,000.
While he participated in a local walk last year, Dave Hochstein, Johnstown, said that this year he was going to walk the entire distance.
Hochstein said the most memorable moment so far was a sad one.
"I had a lady at a traffic stop give me $20 and said, 'thank you for what you're doing,'" he said. "It turns out her son had returned home and about 3 months ago, he committed suicide."
He said he was saddened to hear about it and said that he had reached out to one of the organizations they are raising money for, but it kept him motivated to continue to raise money.
Hochstein was the one carrying Coutch's dog tags into Chambersburg.
"It's an honor," he said.
Locally, a hometown walk was held at Norlo Park on Saturday, after several other activities were held throughout the year, including a Zumbathon and bake sale.
"We had 32 people walk today," said Tracy Hershey, organizer. "Some collected donations and gave them to us as well."
Hershey, joined by Tracy Overcash, Chambersburg and Leslie Shultz, Fayetteville, sold food and T-shirts during the morning.
"I've always wanted to do something for our veterans," Hershey said. "They deserve a lot more than what they get."
She said she definitely wants to hold another walk next year.
A total of $1,700 was raised by all of these activities, she said.
The walkers were given a meal by the Chambersburg VFW Post 1599 which donated $5,000 and the Polka Dance Club which donated $500, Hershey said.
The walk is sponsored by the Kiski Valley Veterans and Patriots Association.
Near Chambersburg, Pulice said they were grateful for the help from Fred Bucci, founder of the Franklin County Military Outreach Program, and of LaMattinas, an Italian restaurant in Fayetteville.
Organizations that the walk donates to are Veterans Multi-Service Center in Philadelphia, Semper Fi Outdoor Odyssey in Boswell, Mechling-Shakley Veterans Center in Cowansville, Wounded Warrior Patrol in Carlisle and Operation Homefront.
Pulice said that they are looking for more organizations to donate to and Pennsylvania organizations or veterans who need assistance should apply to them online to be considered.
The organization can be reached at http://paherowalk.com and donations can be sent online or by sending a check or money order payable to Kiski Valley Veterans and Patriots Association (KVVPA), PA Hero Walk, C/O Al Pulice, 5140 Ashbaugh Road, Murrysville, Pa. 15668.
Lauren Cappuccio can be contacted at 262-4754.