Last week, I was a visitor to Davie, Florida from Pennsylvania. I traveled there to visit my friend Janine Lutz, a Davie resident, and founder of the LCpl Janos V. Lutz Live To Tell Foundation. The foundation’s mission is to “Stop Veteran Suicide”, by raising awareness of Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), and promoting Post Traumatic Growth through community based services, like the newly launched “Buddy Up Program”. She has spearheaded and quickly mobilized these organizations in honor of her son, LCpl Janos V. Lutz who took his life, 12 Jan 2013, after enduring PTS upon returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During my visit, Janine told me she would be hosting a bicyclist, Tom, who was riding 6600 miles from South Carolina, to Key West, over to the Gulf Coast, and then on to Alaska for the Sea2Sea organization – “Giving Back to Those Who Served”. Wow – sounds amazing! But I didn’t know how amazing until I met Tom. He is Tom von Kaenel, retired Army veteran, cycling alone, without a support vehicle, on this self-supporting journey. But he downplays his efforts and instead asks us to focus on the two goals of the Sea2Sea 2014 Challenge:
1) To remember those who are no longer with us. It is our vision to establish a long range program to establish an Iraq/Afghanistan War Memorial in each US State listing the names of those who gave their lives for us in these conflicts, with the eventual goal of a national Iraq/Afghanistan War Memorial in Washington, DC.
In short the goal is simple – Never forget.
2) To continue to help those that they left behind. Partnering with selected 501(c)3 organizations across the country (for example, LCpl Lutz Live To Tell, Purple Heart Homes, Wounded Warrior Project, Upstate Warrior Solution, Augusta Warrior Project, JD-3), we will continue to highlight the challenges that service members, veterans, and their families face and how all of us can help.”
I had the honor to attend the Sea2Sea/LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Foundation Memorial Ceremony, hosted by the Town of Davie on Friday, March 14, 2014. Tom led a Remember, Recognize, and Rejoice ceremony during which the names of 345 Florida military service members who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, were read simultaneously by the audience. The chaos of sound reminded all of us that the conflict, the suffering, and the return is not neat and tidy, and the wars’ effects ripple far and wide.
I am most fortunate to have spent time with Tom and Janine. Their passion and dedication to honor and help heal the veteran community is inspiring, and I urge you to look at their websites (sea2sea.org, lcpllutzlivetotell.org), and consider what you can do, small or large, to get involved.
And I hope that if Tom’s route passes through your community that you welcome him and consider hosting him for an evening’s rest as he cycles from city to city/town to town on his way to Alaska. I guarantee you’ll enjoy meeting him.