Semper Hike: The Unbreakable Bond of Veterans
It’s been about six months since our friend and Marine Corps veteran, Bill Laliberte (aka Glacier), left to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. In my first article about Bill, I wrote of his desire to reconcile memories from The Gulf War that have haunted him for years. I recently spoke with him and heâ€™s presently near Evans Notch in New Hampshire laid-up with a broken foot.
As a result of this injury, I’m sorry to say that Bill’s thru-hike from Georgia to Maine has been cut short, but his mission to “walk of the war” has been accomplished in ways Bill never expected. Since leaving Springer Mountain back in March, Bill has seen views most of us can only dream of, gained some amazing new friends, lost SIXTY pounds (he is now the same weight he was at the end of boot camp in the ’90s) Â and experienced again the camaraderie of fellow servicemen and women â€“ most notably, Scott Shirk,Â Commander of VFW Post 8851 in Boiling Springs, PA.
After reading of Bill on EMS’ Facebook page, Scott reached out to him and offered some truly remarkable support. Much the way his group aided veterans from the Warrior Hike program, Scott and his fellow veterans provided Bill with hot meals, a shower, a warm bed, and – most importantly – brotherhood. At a time when Bill was feeling the grind of slogging through wet trails in the mid-section of the AT, Scott’s kind act rekindled his enthusiasm and further helped him recall positive memories of past time spent in the Marines.
Scott Shirk’s circle of friends has made a habit of helping fellow veterans walk off war stress. Earlier this year, they hosted the 2013 class of the Warrior Hike Program. While providing tons of food, drinks, good times, and common-ground, they played an integral role in helping the warriors shed stress and fatigue from time spent at war while on the Trail. Although many have great intentions, it’s apparent that only veterans can truly understand fellow veteransâ€™ struggles.
“We had a ton of fun with every hiker we met and the look on their eyes, whenÂ you put a big home cooked meal in front of them, is priceless.” said Shirk. “IÂ enjoyed my time with him [Bill] and I am always thrilled to meet a comrade andÂ help out if I can. He was very appreciative and I feel I made a new friend.”
VFW posts exist in many cities and towns across the country. They sit quietly and never really ask for much. Growing up there was one in my hometown, but I never really knew what the group did. Bill’s experience, and Scott’s Group’s efforts, have taught me a lot about them – most importantly, they’re purpose: to provide a venue where veterans help fellow veterans. If you’d like to help the VFW, or Scott’s VFW Post 8851 specifically, check out their websites. I’m sure they’ll appreciate hearing from you.
As for Bill, he is appreciative of the immense encouragement he received fromÂ Eastern Mountain Sports, Semper Hike readers, and everyone else who has taken time from their days to like, share, and post word of his introspectiveÂ adventure. That support helped him accomplish his mission of walking off theÂ war.Â Bill is still in New Hampshire and in true Bill style, he is staying in the mountains and helping some friends slackpack through the Whites by playing chauffer.
With a broken foot, his dream of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail is over for thisÂ year but the friendships and encouragement he gained in the process will live on forever. According to Bill, he is already planning a second attempt of the ATâ€¦ just as soon as finances permit. Go Bill!
*Image Credits: Warrior Hike, Scott Shirk, and Bill Laliberte