Veteran walks from Athol to Orange to raise awareness

  • Veteran Joe Young, holding the American flag, and his supporters cross the Millers River in Athol on his annual Veterans Day march to Memorial Park in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Veteran Joe Young at Athol Veterans Park prior to making his annual trek to Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Joe Young, holding an American flag, and his supporters cross the Millers River in Athol on his annual Veterans Day march to Memorial Park in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Joe Young, right, talks to those gathered at Athol Veterans Park before he embarks for his annual Veterans Day march to Memorial Park in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/11/2019 11:00:55 PM

ORANGE — Some years it’s been him alone, and some years he’s been surrounded by supporters.

On Monday, Orange resident Joe Young walked the approximate 5 miles from Athol’s Veterans Park to Memorial Park in Orange. At the start of his trek, he made a brief speech, and then was on his way, followed by roughly two dozen other walkers.

Young’s goal, as it has been for all 13 years he’s done the walk, was to raise awareness for, and recognize, active service members in the U.S. military

“This is just to bring awareness to the public,” he said. “We still have men and women all across the world in harm’s way.”

Young has been active in raising awareness for veterans throughout the years in Orange. In 2016, he lobbied the local government to install a sign and dedicated parking spot on South Main Street for recipients of the Purple Heart — for those wounded in combat. He has also been active with local veterans’ organizations and hiking organizations, having become a maintainer for a section of trail used by veterans sponsored by Warrior Expeditions.

Young himself enlisted in 1976, and served for 42 years in the Army National Guard, retiring as a sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank. For 40 of those years, Young was in the service full-time.

He served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, and was deployed again in 2005.

“This means a lot to me,” he said of the walk, describing it as a profound personal endeavor for him as someone who has seen the horrors of war first-hand.

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

“I have done this walk with as many people as 25 to 30, and as few as just myself,” said Young, adding that when weather has been bad some years, he has been the only one out walking.

“If it rains, if it’s sleet, if it’s snow or whatever it is, I will be out there,” he continued. “It’s because the war doesn’t stop whatever the weather is. This walk needs to go on.”

In past years family members, friends and fellow veterans have joined Young. The Orange Fire Department has also joined him in walking the last couple of miles of the walk, which ends at Memorial Park, home of Massachusetts’ official Peace Statue, a World War I memorial with the words “It Shall Not Be Again” inscribed.

For Young, the walk is an important visible reminder of those overseas fighting to protect the U.S. and its liberties. He said he has received positive feedback from other veterans of different war eras, and that it’s also important to him not just as a veteran himself, but as the son of a World War II veteran.

What’s encouraging, he said, is those who recognize the event who have not necessarily served in the military.

“A lot of people have no affiliation with the military whatsoever,” Young said. “There’s also people (who) walk with me that I don’t know.”

Young said locals have been particularly supportive, with cars honking horns during the walk and people waving, and local businesses like Dunkin’ Donuts providing coffee and doughnuts at the end of the walk in years past.

“For me, it’s a day to think about the past,” Young said. “To think about them and what they did for me.”

Reach David McLellan at or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.

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