It began with a soldier's dying wish. 31-year-old Staff Sergeant Robert Toland, told his cancer was terminal, went home to upstate New York to spend his last days with his wife and kids. Staying out of hospitals and care homes meant adding a downstairs bathroom to his two-story house, which friends arranged with help from a local youth group. The plan required getting the Toland family out of the house for a week, so local vets from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion decided a trip to Disney World was in order. They contacted the Make a Wish Foundation, but learned that they mostly helped kids. There was no similar organization serving vets.
So, the call went out to VFW and Legion posts across the country for help. Help came, Sgt. Toland's wish was granted and the Warrior's Wish Foundation was born. The all-volunteer group went on to grant further wishes, everything from a new washing machine and one last family reunion to a hope chest filled with 18 birthday presents for the not-yet-born child of a 24-year-old Marine who knew he wouldn't be there for his daughter, but wished he could be.
Enter Mark Klodzinski, a bartender from upstate New York with two brothers fighting in Afghanistan. Not wanting to add further stress to his already stressed-out mom, he wanted to do something to serve his country. Inspired by Peter Jennings book, A Walk Across America, he decided to do just that -- and to use the journey to draw awareness to veteran's issues and get pledges for the Warrior's Wish Foundation.
Mark left home last March and walked to Florida, then across the south, north to Utah and on to San Diego by November where he spoke at a Veteran's Day celebration on the USS Midway. After walking 4500 miles, he took a holiday break and flew home to New York only to return to California after the New Year. He left San Francisco Jan. 2 making his way up the coast stopping to talk to service clubs, schools and Veteran's groups along the way about the Warrior's Wish Foundation and the Adopt a US Soldier Foundation.
Mark arrives in Eureka this week to speak to various Rotary groups and to attend a Warrior's Wish Benefit from 5-8 p.m. Saturday at Avalon (239 G St., Eureka), where $15 gets you an array of appetizers, the opportunity to bid on silent auction and a chance to meet Mark, with all proceeds to the foundation. Tickets are on sale at Avalon and Bizou during open hours or by email, email@example.com. For further details go to www.awarriorwish.org or call Avalon at 445-0500.