Island ready to March for Heroes

Event raises money that will benefit local veterans.

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On Saturday, veterans, active military and law enforcement personnel, young Naval Sea Cadet Corps members, and everyday folks will stride through Oak Bluffs and Edgartown for 26.2 miles as part of the 2017 Martha’s Vineyard March for Heroes.

Some of the military marchers plan to ruck, carrying an average of 30 pounds of equipment as they would when deployed, thus making their treks more arduous.

In its fourth year, the march largely came to fruition through the efforts of Mike Blake, an Island native, former Dukes County sheriff’s deputy and retired Army scout platoon sergeant of 16 years. Mr. Blake recently relocated to Florida, where he works at a special-operations training facility, but he plans to fly in to participate in the march. He told The Times that the motivation for developing the march was simple: “I wanted to do something that benefited Island veterans, because the big national charities don’t always filter down to small communities like the Island.”

The march will commence at 6:30 am at the Oak Bluffs VFW Hall, after a 6 am breakfast. The marchers will then move along along East Chop past Our Market, and then traverse Beach Road and continue to the Edgartown Fire Department for a water break. Then they’ll do the Katama loop and stop at the Edgartown station again, before striking up Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road. At the intersection of Barnes Road, the marchers will be under police escort.

VFW Commander Rick Bernard said this is an excellent leg of the march to watch and greet the participants. The marchers are expected to turn onto County Road and return to the VFW hall between 3:30 and 4 pm. Edgartown Fire and the Island Tactical Team will have vehicles and equipment on hand for public view. There will be sandwiches and other food available for the marchers and the public.

The march generates donations via a GoFundMe page, gofundme.com/3gbkz6o, and from donation jars across the Island.

The majority of the funds garnered from this year’s march will indeed remain local, furthering the giving capabilities of both the American Legion in Tisbury and the VFW in Oak Bluffs.

In addition to aiding a scholarship fund, Commander Bernard said that march donations provide vets in hardship with Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas trees and presents, heating oil, grocery store gifts cards, or utility bill payments.

“We don’t want you to be cold, we don’t want you to be hungry, and that’s what it’s about,” he said, adding that returning vets can find reintegration and the funding needed to do it problematic. “It’s hard enough to survive here on the Island year-round as it is, especially first getting out of the military and trying to get back into civilian life. It can be very difficult, especially with the prices.”

The march contributes to one national charity, the SSG Matthew A. Pucino Memorial Foundation, LTD. Kristin Pucino Gibson of Oak Bluffs represents the foundation on the Island. Ms. Pucino Gibson is a relative of the late Mr. Pucino, and she is an active member of the march’s organizing team for three years running.

“Matthew was a Special Forces Green Beret killed in Afghanistan on Nov. 23, 2009. Since his death, my cousins, his parents, created a foundation in Matthew’s name, and we help aid severely wounded combat veterans as well as families of the fallen,” she said. One of the donations went to a double amputee named Roland. “We built him a custom trike and we actually got him a trailer, and then combat veterans from Massachusetts drove it across country to Texas and gave it to him.”

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital nurse Laura Hilliard, the march’s in-house photographer and also one of its organizers, hopes to earmark a portion of this year’s donations to aid Island vets with PTSD, and hedge against the threat of veteran suicide.

Mr. Blake said that there’s a lot more to vets than military baseball caps or stickers on their cars and trucks, but often that’s all folks see. He encourages Islanders to come visit them on Saturday and enjoy free food in the process.

Asked if she’s prepped for her march, Dukes County director of veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy told The Times, “For months, are you kidding? Because you can’t just go out and do 26 miles.”

“This one’s going to be a lot of fun,” Mr. Blake said.

“It’s all about camaraderie with your fellow veterans,” Ms. Murphy said.