Vietnam veteran walks for families

Christine June
415th Base Support Battalion

***image1***Norm Raynal says that for the first 20 kilometers he’s thinking about how to solve the problems of the world and other normal sort of things one thinks about.

“Like how I’m going to get those tasks done at work next week or those few jobs around the house,” said Mr. Raynal, Defense Commissary Agency program manager. “But once I get past the 30 or 35 (kilometers) range, I’m thinking left, right, left, right … please where is the next control point so I can get something to drink?”

The 64-year-old Vietnam veteran has finished two 42.9K marathons hosted by local German and American volksmarching clubs. Each one took about eight hours and 20 minutes to complete. He’s tackling his third Saturday in a little village right outside of Bad Kreuznach.

His goal is to complete five 42.9K marathons, a total of 210K or about 130 miles, to raise $15,000 for the two Fisher Houses, which are less than a five-minute walk from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest American hospital outside of the United States.

His volunteer project has already raised $10,890 for the Landstuhl Fisher House operating budget from 45 German and American businesses and individual sponsors.

“The money goes directly to the Landstuhl Fisher House and shows your support for the families of our wounded servicemembers during their time of need,” said Mr. Raynal, who has worked for the commissary agency for 12 years.

Fisher Houses have been serving military families during medical crises since 1990 and are built by the Fisher House Foundation Inc. The first Landstuhl Fisher House opened June 18, 2001 and the second one in Dec. 4, 2002.

“We have hosted almost 3,000 families to date,” said Kathy Gregory, Landstuhl Fisher House manager. “We give the families everything we can possibly think of to help them through their situation and donations make it happen.”

The yearly budget for Landstuhl Fisher House I and II is about $218,000 and about $155,000 of that comes from donations, said Mrs. Gregory.

“One-hundred percent of our money is used to help the families and support everyone who comes to make Fisher House a ‘home away from home’ while visiting someone in the hospital,” said Mrs. Gregory. “We can’t change what happens to people, but we can help them through their tough times.”

Danny Watkins, from Atlanta, stayed at one of the Landstuhl Fisher Houses from May 10 to 14 while his son was a patient at LRMC. Marine Sgt. Randall Watkins was wounded by a roadside device in Iraq. Sergeant Watkins is currently recuperating at the military hospital on Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

“The last thing on your mind at this time is your own living arrangements,” said Mr. Watkins. “The Fisher House stands ready to eliminate that burden and allow you to care for your loved one.”

During his stay, Mr. Watkins saw a flyer about Mr. Raynal’s volunteer project and immediately made a donation and sent the following e-mail:

“Because of people like you, I was able to stay at the Landstuhl Fisher House when my son was wounded in Iraq. God bless you and the staff of the Landstuhl Fisher House.”

Mr. Raynal served in the Army and completed two combat tours in Vietnam. His son, an Army lieutenant colonel now stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C., fought in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“My son and I were not wounded,” said Mr. Raynal, starting to get teary-eyed. “Put that fact together with Danny’s e-mail, and that’s why I’m doing this project and why it’s important to me.”

Mr. Raynal said he’s definitely going to do five more marathons next year, but first he has two more left after Saturday. He will be walking July 2 in Darmstadt and Nov. 5 at Bad Sobernheim.

For more information or to make a pledge, go to his Web site