Silkies Hike raises awareness of veteran suicides

Civilians, veterans and active duty service members march down Western Boulevard during a silkies hike hosted by the Irreverent Warriors in Jacksonville, N.C. on April 16, 2016.


By SCOTT CALZOLAIO | MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass. | Published: August 1, 2017

MILFORD, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — A band of young veterans proudly made their way from bar to bar on Saturday wearing nothing but their silkies and military gear, waving American flags.

And just what are silkies, a civilian might ask?

"It's just what we call the rather short-cut running shorts that we enjoy," said Milford resident and Marine Corps veteran Jesse Thompson. "They're not really the official running shorts, those are a little longer, but they're also not nearly as comfortable as the glorious, soft, silky, running shorts called silkies that show a bit more thigh."

The underdressed veterans laughed and cheered on their way down South Main Street. Cars beeped and passengers yelled words of encouragement as the group made its way into their last stop, Pinz bowling alley.

The walk, also known as the "Silkies Hike," was organized to raise awareness about veteran suicide, "and have a damn good time doing it," their Facebook page says.

Veteran suicide is not an isolated problem, and hikes take place all over the country. Thompson said that an average of 22 veterans across the nation take their lives every day, and that the issue needs far more attention.

"It's a bunch of veterans, from the Marines, Navy, Air Force, Army, whatever, getting together to help us prevent suicide," Thompson said about the hike. "Suicide is a serious problem within the veteran community and so we're trying to create connections and a network, so that we prevent it."

This was the second Silkie Hike in Milford. The first was in 2015, with a smaller crowd of veterans. This year, the support network grew.

"This year was bigger and we hit more stops," Thompson said. "We are not only trying to raise awareness about that but also to prevent (veteran suicide) by creating these networks."

He said that the best person to help a veteran in need is another veteran.

"We open up to each other more than someone who hasn't been there and done that," he said. "By getting each other together, and just going out and being weird together is great. We tend to have our own sense of humor separate from the civilian world. So, it's nice to be around people with similar mindsets."

Thompson said that people who participate exchange numbers and encourage each other to call if things get tough.

The hike started at Casey's Crossing in Holliston. From there, the group made their way to Milford and hit Legend's Bar at the Doubletree, Lucky Nines Bar, the Italian-American War Veterans bar, Turtle Tavern, and Pinz. Between Turtle Tavern and Pinz, the group stopped at Draper Park for a moment of silence for those who couldn't be there; those who gave their lives so it could happen, they said.

The most memorable stop, said Thompson, was at the Italian-American Veterans Club. The band of veterans were warmly welcomed and livened up the atmosphere, said Thompson.

"This was the first year we went there, and let me tell you, it was a great turnout," he said. "The post commanders absolutely loved us and they can't wait to see us again. Everyone in the hike, I think, enjoyed that the most."

For Milford resident and Marine veteran, Tom McDonald, this issue of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is personal. His reason for getting involved with veteran suicide awareness stems not only from his own military experience, but more from a friend who suffered from PTSD.

"We're doing this to raise awareness for folks who seem to forget what the real struggle is with most veterans," McDonald said.

His friend was injured in the line of duty, leading to PTSD.

"He had gotten hit by an (improvised explosive device) and received a Purple Heart," McDonald said. "He was disabled, and he was going for a great government job, but was denied because of his PTSD. He ended up taking his life last October. It's been pretty tough."

Cases like his friend's are the reason he decided to get involved with veteran suicide awareness.

"PTSD is an invisible wound, that no one else can see but you," he said. "We can't tell if you're going through hard times or not. So, that's why we do this, to say 'hey, at the end of the day, we're here for each other if you need us.'"

©2017 MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass.
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