Gene Vance Jr. Day returns Saturday with armed forces tribute

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown will celebrate Armed Forces Day State Tribute on the eighth Gene Vance Jr. Day with support from the West Virginia National Guard together with the Gene Vance Jr. Foundation. It also honors the 18th anniversary year of 9/11.
The community celebration will take place at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Monongalia County Courthouse Square.
Gene Vance Jr. Day was in-part, founded by The Gene Vance Jr. Foundation. Michael M.J. Minc is not only the founder of the foundation, but also Vance’s brother-in-law. While serving his country, Vance was killed in 2002. In his sacrifice, he saved the lives of two American soldiers and 18 Afghanis.
The foundation recognizes all those fallen in the war and supports the wounded as well as offers recognition to returning soldiers. This year’s celebration will host inaugural benefit events that will expand the day.
Minc said even 18 years after 9/11, some of the statistics for war-wounded veterans are not much improved.
“The increasing suicide rates amongst our younger veterans, 20 soldiers per day. We have delays in essential catastrophic care,” Minc said.
The need for more emotional, surgical and medical care for veterans, Minc said, has increased a demand on the organization. Last year, it was decided more attention was needed for the issues with widespread public support. The Freedom 5k Run for Healing, The Freedom Ride with Pride and Freedom Walk to Support and T-shirts will be available to benefit the organization.
Cost to participate is $15 for adults to walk, and member walk, run or ride is $30, which includes a commemorative T-shirt. Military may participate free.
“We’re dependent here entirely on community support because we give free support to community. We’ve been directing 100% of our available funds
to program expenses since we started in 2007,” Minc said.
Staff Sgt. Mark Zambon is a Marine Corps veteran who worked in bomb disposal and went on six combat tours. He lost both his legs in service and is working to help vets with mental health issues. He said given the fact the military is all volunteer fewer circles of people are impacted by the sacrifices of combat veterans. He said helping civilians understand this sacrifice is important.
“The burden doesn’t belong to the VA, the burden belongs to the community of our nation at large to welcome our service members back home,”
said Zambon.
Zambon said treatment resources for veterans with mental health needs have improved but on a larger level, the stigma of mental health exists. Whether civilian or military, awareness of mental health is important, and part of what Gene Vance Jr. Day is about. Minc said it goes beyond the ceremony, to bridging the gap between civilian and veteran.
“We understand and embrace one another in the true spirit of love and understanding and that is the key here and that can provide support, and support is essential,” said Minc.
SMarino@DominionPost.com

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