Local veterans along with friends, family, and supporters marched for the sixth year Saturday at Chestnut Ridge Park.
The KIA Memorial Roadmarch is a 10K in memory of the hundreds of New York soldiers that have been killed in action.
The 10K is more than just your average race, however. Just as soldiers carry gear with them, able participants carry the weight of donated food on their backs.
All of that food is then donated to local veterans’ food pantries and gold star families, so the event as a whole both honors the fallen while helping those living in need.
Last year’s march collected 25,000 pounds of food. Organizers say this year, the event is on track to do just as well.
Founder Jason Jaskula started the Roadmarch to remember his battle buddy, Christopher Dill.
Dill’s name was be among the printed signs displaying fallen soldiers’ names that marchers pass on their route.
“I’ve heard from lots of people that it’s just…very motivational for them to see those signs and then pay honor to them; they gave their lives for our freedoms,” Jaskula said.
The names represent the 327 New York soldiers that had been killed in action since September 11, 2001.
“Yes, there’s 327 names. There’s 327 families,” Jaskula said. “Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, uncles, that they all lost somebody across the state.
“A lot of people just go along with their daily lives and don’t really realize the sacrifices that were made,” he added. “Obviously, they gave their all, but their family, they’re still giving every day.”
This year, Roadmarch organizers were able to create a very special moment for the family of a man who served in Vietnam.
Joshua Kelley’s late father got an engraved Zippo lighter while serving with the Marines at the Chu Lai airbase in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. He says his father lost the lighter before he came home.
That lighter was recently found on a road in Orchard Park.
The KIA Memorial Roadmarch group paid to fly Kelley in from Arkansas to this year’s event to give him back his father’s lighter.
Kelley, who was born without arms and one of his legs, was one of the participants in this year’s 10K. He says his condition was caused by his father’s exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, and he has spent his life fighting on behalf of other families in the same position.
Kelley says he can’t begin to describe his gratitude for getting his father’s lighter back.
“It means a lot. Because I don’t really have a lot of his military stuff from when he was over there or anything. I have like one picture of him and one medal and that’s about it,” Kelley said.
Kelley, whose birthday was Saturday, also received a matching Zippo of his own from the KIA Memorial Roadmarch organizers during a special ceremony before the march kicked off.