By George Dominguez
May 4, 2013 (San Diego’s East County) --Daunting as it may seem, Joe “Tiger” Patrick II is walking across America to honor the fallen heroes of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. This week, his journey took him through East County, where he met with local firefighters and paramedics.
"I felt a compelling need to do something to honor to our fallen heroes, to give people a close up view of those we lost. This isn't a political statement, but an expression of love and respect for those who volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way to protect us here at home," said Tiger. He honors the fallen by carrying a memorial mosaic panel which contains a picture of every fallen warrior.
Tiger’s mission started at the furthest point south in America, the San Ysidro and Imperial Beach communities. He is carrying the memorial panel, which is 25 feet long by 8 feet tall and contains the pictures of the 6,654 men and women who were lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, another six warriors have falling in the last few weeks, bringing the total to 6661 soldiers killed. This does not include the 32,226 estimated by the Pentagon which have been wounded.
The journey’s starting point began on April 27th with a public unveiling at the Local VFW Post 5447 in Imperial Beach where the memorial panel was displayed. Tiger wanted to start the journey by honoring the many Navy Seals that have been killed or wounded which are stationed nearby at Coronado Island. Tiger will be displaying the panel across the nation.
Along the way, Tiger will be staying at fire houses, VFW Posts and American Legions at night to rest. He is also carrying a fireman’s “turn out” coat that will be autographed by the firemen at each fire station along the way. This coat will be presented at the Emmetsburg Maryland National Fire Fighters Academy gathering the first week in October. Tiger will donate the coat so that it may be auctioned off and the proceeds will go to the Academy’s charity of their choice.
In Potrero, Cal Fire firefighters gave him a patch to display proudly on his backpack.
This is not Tiger’s first walk. He did a similar walk for the 10 year anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. During August of 2011, Tiger walked from the Pentagon to the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA and finished Sept 10, 2011 at Ground Zero 9/11 Memorial in time for the commemorative services on September 11. A Sargent in the Army served during Desert Storm, he wanted to do something for our fallen.
Tiger will spend the month of May walking to Phoenix, Arizona and will then interrupt his journey for a week to fly back to Rhode Island for that state's Special Olympics Summer Games.
"I have been a coach and coordinator for about 20 years now for Special Olympics RI and each year my athletes and I put in a lot of hard work to be ready for the competition, I wouldn't miss it for the world. I could also probably use a week off from walking in the hot sun for a little bit too." Tiger admitted with a grin.
The Walk will take about six months to complete and it will end with visits to Arlington Cemetery, where many of the Fallen on the memorial panel are resting eternally and then finally Walter Reed Hospital in DC. Tiger will stop in towns and military bases along the way and looks forward to meeting the many family and friends of the Fallen.
"I think my biggest reward/accomplishment will be to hug those who carry the loss everyday," he said, "to remind them they are not alone in their grief."
Joe “Tiger” Patrick is that rare breed of individual who has taken the time out of his life to honor those who gave their all for America. He feels that this is the least he can do. Tiger is a man who has decided to do something and is helping the rest of us along the way to take a little time out of our lives to join him in honoring America’s heroes.