Walk this way: National Guard vet leads annual Orange-Athol event

  • Army National Guard Veteran Joe Young at Athol’s Veterans Park before the walk last year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2020 4:51:20 PM
Modified: 11/11/2020 4:51:16 PM

ORANGE — Joe Young’s annual Veterans Day walk will go on as scheduled on Wednesday. But drivers-by might notice something different about the participants.

All walkers are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing as Young, an Army National Guard veteran of 42 years, leads a group of willing patriots from Memorial Park in Orange to Veterans Park in Athol starting at noon.

“The walk is just to make people aware that we still have troops in harm’s way and we cannot forget them,” Young said. “This walk goes off rain or shine because our troops don’t stop because of the weather.”

This will be the 14th year Young has organized the walk. He figured it was a good way to recognize and raise awareness for active service members in the U.S. military. Sometimes he walks with a crowd of like-minded people; other times he has embarked on the journey alone.

“For me, it’s a day to think about the past,” Young said at last year’s event. “To think about (service members) and what they did for me.”

Young enlisted in 1976. He was in the service full-time for 40 of the 42 years. He retired as a sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank. Young served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and was deployed again in 2005.

On June 6, 2005, he was traveling in a convoy in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated. The Humvee in front of Young exploded, and a 19-year-old friend died in front him. He has since suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Also, this walk isn’t about politics or who’s right and who’s wrong,” Young said. “It’s to support our troops.”

This is not the only example of activism Young, the son of a World War II veteran, engages in. He lobbied Orange’s government to install a sign and dedicated South Main Street parking spots for Purple Heart recipients, and has been active with local veterans’ organizations and hiking organizations. He became a maintainer for a section of trail, sponsored by the veteran nonprofit outdoor therapy program Warrior Expeditions, used by veterans.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.

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