Joe Barletta is doing more than standing up for vets.
He's walking for them.
I encountered Barletta along the side of Route 6 heading east between Irvine and Starbrick on Tuesday, May 7 while he covered the 20 miles from mile markers 80 to 100.
Times Observer photo by Jacob Perryman
Shoe leather for soldiers
Joe Barletta is crossing the state along Route 6 to raise awareness of veterans issues through the Wounded Warrior Project. Barletta intends to walk 400 miles for the third year.
Barletta, who served with the 1st Battalion 9th Marines, nicknamed "The Walking Dead"in Vietnam, is walking across Pennsylvania to raise awareness and support for the Wounded Warrior Project and other veterans issues.
Barletta, who hails from North East, began his journey at 5:45 a.m. on May 1 on the Pennsylvania/Ohio border. He plans to walk 400 miles of Route 6 from the state's western border to Milford, which is situated on the border with New York and New Jersey.
He's likely to make it, as this is his third year making the trip, one step at a time and 20 miles a day.
Barletta, who will be 66 in September, has spent the latter half of his life helping veterans, something he said mirrors what he did for soldiers in Vietnam as a squad leader.
"I got a lot of medals," Barletta said. "I got them for saving lives. I've been fighting for 25 to 30 years for veterans. It's about responsibility for another human being."
According to Barletta, serving in the armed forces is all about caring, and most veterans just want people to understand that.
"We're not murderers," Barletta explained of fighting overseas. "It's like a fire department. If you don't help the surrounding towns, one town burns down, then another. It's like that with other countries.
"People are afraid of us. We're not asking for anything. Just understand what we did. We join because we care a little. The second greatest love is in combat. The willingness to give your life for someone else you may have only known a few months. People don't understand because their fear won't let them. I believe only vets can help vets. Civilians can, but they need us because we understand. By helping veterans, we, in turn, get helped by it."
He also wants people to know what veterans face and the struggle they face to treat problems.
"People don't know the mental problems. I had to learn a lot of things about others before I could get help," Barletta recalled. "My cure, what flushed me out, was doing more good, doing more good and it flushed the anger out. It's like any other habit. If you can get into the habit of being good it'll keep happening. I got the courage to be kind. I got the courage to be nice. And it takes courage to be like that.
"You wanna go back because other guys didn't. They think it's about the blood and the gore and the guts. It's not. It's about being there. Trauma is the same. The difference with combat or the loss of a child is the situation is an everyday occurrence. You did these things every day.
"We never learned about our emotions. My father, my grandfather (who served), you didn't talk about it. If we could just talk things out we'd be a lot better off. We're all the same. We're all human beings."
He urged veterans to get help no matter what type of stigma they see attached to it or what anyone says.
"The problem is, it's not okay to help yourself," Barletta said. "If you go, then people talk behind your back. They say things. You got to take care of yourself before you can help other people.
"For years I never looked at my citations. I never cared. I tell veterans now, 'Wear your colors and be proud.' People are wearing some athlete making millions uniform when the vets earned theirs."
Barletta shared some advice about living in general.
"When you understand your mind and your body, it's like being an adult and not a child," Barletta said. "Think positive. Laughter is the best medicine. This is what I do. I turn it around and that's how you do it. There's a reason for what happens, but it's all in how you view it."
"All the studying I did on the psychology of anger and fear; they're twins, they're the same thing."
Barletta is looking for drivers to drive beside him as he walks, but cautions they need to be able to spend the entire day doing it.
"From the time we start to the end of the day," Barletta said.
Interested individuals can contact Freeman Mayberry at 814-489-3742. According to Barletta, if there isn't an answer, leave a message and he will call back. Volunteers can also contact the project by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further information on the Wounded Warrior Project can be found online at www.woundedwarriorproject.org. Barletta also maintains a Facebook page where people can follow his progress.
"This walk is about a wake-up call," Barletta said. "There's a war out there. It's going on every day."