Spending two weeks marching across the state for the 14th annual PA March of Heroes gives you plenty of time to reflect, Travis Reesman said after he and five other military veterans were met by an honor guard at the Lower Burrell VFW on Saturday.
But the 28-year-old from Kittanning said his focus on the 300-plus-mile hike that began June 12 at the Philadelphia Art Museum was not on the searing heat or the pain of grinding it mile after mile at foot.
He says he tried to spend the hours focusing on veterans who will benefit from his small sacrifice.
“As I walk down the road, I try to think of all the struggling veterans,” said Reesman, who joined his father for the walk in 2019.
“I come from a military family and I know there are a lot of veterans out there who need help. It’s a way to raise awareness and help veterans with some of the things they need. These are my two favorite weeks of the year.
The final leg of Saturday’s trip was an 8-mile trip from the Allegheny Township War Memorial along Towne Center Drive to VFW Post 92 in Lower Burrell.
Most of the 14-day trip was spent following Highway 30, which is the historic Forbes Highway built during the French and Indian War and named after Brig. General John Forbes.
Money is raised from sponsors and individual donations to help veterans of all eras who are registered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with housing, food, clothing, home and vehicle repairs, purchase of household appliances, payment of utilities, education, funerals and other expenses.
Fundraisers are held by veterans and fraternal organizations across the state throughout the year and donated to the PA Hero Walk when they pass, said Dave Rapacchietta, spokesperson for the organization at nonprofit founded in 2009.
“Our march covers 12 counties and in each of them we are hosted by members of the Foreign War Veterans and American Legion as well as the Elks and Eagle Clubs who provide us with a meal and most importantly, a check fundraisers that they’ve had over the year,” he said.
Rapacchietta said the goal this year is to raise $60,000 to benefit veterans in need.
In addition to donating through Paypal, money can be donated by mailing a check to: PA Hero Walk, PO Box 343 Kittanning, PA 16201.
John Manocchi, 44, from Vandergrift, joined the PA Hero Walk in 2009 and has tried to increase his level of participation each year.
“I started making bits and pieces and kept adding more every year,” he said.
He said hiking through the state’s hilly terrain “is really grueling and hard on the body,” but it’s something he enjoys doing.
Manocchi, who works in housekeeping at the VA Medical Center in Pittsburgh, said he witnesses daily the hardships some veterans face.
“There are a lot of veterans who are way worse than me, that’s why I got involved in this and why I will continue to do this for as long as I can,” he said.
In addition to Reesman, Manocchi and Rapacchietta, this year’s participants — six walkers and two drivers — were: Kenneth “Tucker” McCullough, Gregory McCullough and Rick Reesman of Kittanning; Oklahoma’s Gregg Bothell; and Roger Phillips of Saltsburg.
Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Tony at 724-772-6368, email@example.com or via Twitter .