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Friends, comrades hold fundraiser for veteran battling cancer

By ERIC MARK | THE CITIZENS' VOICE Published: November 13, 2017

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) -- No one told Rich Pries he was the guest of honor until he got there.

Pries, a 68-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran from Kingston, is fighting throat cancer, which has left him unable to speak following two recent surgeries.

On Sunday Pries's friends and comrades turned out to help him.

The first-ever King of Battle Dodgeball Tournament at the 109th Field Artillery Armory raised money for Pries's medical expenses, according to U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Patrick Yurista, who helped organize the event.

Pries's efforts on behalf of homeless veterans are legendary among active duty and retired military personnel in the region, Yurista said.

"He would go under bridges, into bad neighborhoods to help," Yurista said. "So today we are taking a page out of Rich's book."

Teams of seven paid $100 per team to take part in the event, which included food, music and prizes as well as more-or-less organized dodgeball skirmishes. All proceeds went to help with Pries's medical bills.

Pries and his wife, Diane, watched the event unfold from a choice spot in the armory's bleachers, surrounded by family members and friends.

Pries wrote that they found out the event was for his benefit when they got to the armory early Sunday afternoon.

Pries communicates by writing on an erasable pad he carries with him. He writes quickly and neatly and accompanies his words with gestures and sometimes with a smile.

He wrote emphatically about his encounters with local veterans living on the edge.

Pries, an avid wildlife photographer, often comes across homeless veterans as he walks along the banks of the Susquehanna River, taking photographs, he wrote.

He tries to help those who will accept help, no matter how long that takes.

"It can take months for them to open up to me," he wrote. "Some never do."

Pries said he works to connect struggling veterans with church groups and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Plains Twp., which provides treatment and services.

"Back into society is my goal," he wrote.

As the dodgeball action hit high gear, people approached Pries, hugged him and shook his hand. Some shed tears.

"You won't find a better guy," said one of Pries's high school classmates.

When asked how he felt about the show of support, Pries put down the writing pad.

He gently tapped his chest in front of his heart, then slowly ran one finger from his eye down his cheek.

Then he picked up the pad and pen again.

"The 109th has done right by me," he wrote.

emark@citizensvoice.com

(c)2017 The Citizens' Voice. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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