May 23, 2013 10:46:42 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
Every Memorial Day, Drs. Richard and Judie Holmes commemorate the life of their son, a United States Army veteran who paid the ultimate price for his time in uniform.
But Sunday, they will not only celebrate the life of the late Richard E. Holmes II, but they will also celebrate the lives of all veterans through the first annual Veterans Memorial Walk/Run fundraiser to be held from 2-5 p.m. at the Columbus Riverwalk.
The event is being organized by the Richard E. Holmes II Memorial Foundation, a nonprofit charity the couple founded on Veterans Day in 2011, shortly after their 28-year-old son took his life.
The Holmeses believe their son, who had recently separated from the Army, may not have killed himself if resources had been quickly available to help him reintegrate into civilian life.
Suicide is a growing concern throughout all branches of service. The Veterans Administration estimates around 18 U.S. veterans take their lives each day -- a statistic that has increased since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through the Holmes Foundation, the couple tries to step in and fill the gap for the influx of returning veterans who are mired in endless red tape, trapped in a governmental backlog that numbers in the thousands. They help with everything from financial concerns, like mortgages, car notes and utility bills, to acting as a conduit to connect veterans with needed resources like counselors and support groups.
"If you come home and you have major issues, you don't have 12 months to wait, " Judie Holmes said Wednesday. "We help all veterans."
With so many veterans now returning from deployment, resources are being overwhelmed, said Dwight Dyess, of West Point.
Dyess, who spent 29 years in the U.S. Army National Guard, was appointed civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army in 1992.
Today's veterans face many challenges that are different from those who served in previous wars, Dyess said. Some are returning home with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Others have been deployed multiple times, straining family relationships. All are returning to a still sluggish workforce, making employment sometimes hard to find.
Dyess praised the Holmeses, saying that if families can be held together, returning veterans have a better chance of making a smooth transition.
Judie Holmes credited the foundation's seven-member board, and other volunteers, with making Sunday's walk "an absolute group effort" and said she hopes the public will join them to make the fundraiser a success. All proceeds will go toward the foundation's work.
"It's time for us to step in and help where we can, " she said.
The group has found an ardent supporter in Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Nancy Carpenter.
Carpenter's son, Luke Carpenter, served in Iraq in 2005-2006, and she remembers weeks passing with no word from him. Several members of his unit did not come home, and she will be remembering them this Memorial Day as she celebrates her son's safe return.
She praised the creation of the Holmes Foundation.
"(Luke's) service made me even more keenly aware of the sacrifices of family members," Carpenter said. "Memorial Day is really about the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. There are real wounds they suffer from their time in service during a time of war. Some of those wounds are not easily healed."
But Sunday's event will be a celebration of life, Judie Holmes said. Registration for the walk will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday, and live music will begin at 2 p.m. and end at 5 p.m. Participants can pay $20 to walk and receive a T-shirt or $10 to walk without receiving a T-shirt. Those who are not interested in walking are invited to bring lawn chairs and listen to the music. Inflatables will be provided for children and a vendor will be on-site selling concessions.
"It is a time of commemoration of our veterans -- gratitude to those people who have served," Holmes said. "It shouldn't stop Sunday evening when we leave the Riverwalk. We are not overlooking that we have lost so many, we are celebrating the life they had and what they did for our country. It will not be a somber occasion. It has to be a celebration and a remembrance."
"It had to be a tremendous loss for (the Holmeses) to lose their son after he had served his country," Dyess said. "It's just a marvelous thing that they're trying to turn it into a positive."
For more information about Sunday's walk or the Holmes Foundation, please call Judie Holmes at 662-889-0180.
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Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.