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Treading up Half Dome, lifting the warrior spirit

By Cpl. Priscilla Vitale | | February 11, 2009

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Organizers for a Yosemite National Park mountain hike are seeking volunteers to plan and support an annual event that commemorates the sacrifices made by service members fighting in the Global War on Terrorism.

The Lewis B. Puller Memorial Hike, which takes place annually the first week in August during Purple Heart Day, is an eight-mile trek up Half Dome in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

The hike was named after Lewis B. Puller Jr., the son of the infamous and late Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, a highly-decorated war hero and an everlasting Marine icon.

The idea to turn the hike into a memorial was inspired by fallen Cpl. Mark A. Evnin who was killed during combat operations April 3, 2003, in Iraq, said Philip Aaron, an organizer for the event.

“Everything came about in an attempt to bring public awareness to the warriors, past and present, who have given so much for their country,” said Aaron.

The goal is to inspire people to appreciate the nation’s servicemen and women and honor those who have sacrificed their lives or parts of themselves, he added. 

The hike begins at the park’s Happy Isles and continues through Vernal Falls, also known as the Mist Trail. The group then stops to swim in the Emerald Pool before proceeding up past Nevada Falls and to the Cables.

Once participants reach the summit, a small ceremony is held followed by a brief prayer. Photos of those being remembered are placed on the mountain to create a small memorial in their name, said Aaron.

Those who cannot participate in the hike can participate in the ceremony from Glacier Point, which overlooks Yosemite Valley, said Aaron.

“It is the most spectacular spot in the world,” he added, referring to the view.

The initial idea for the hike was to bring wounded warriors up to the top of Half Dome, although it’s too expensive to coordinate.

It’s a rather difficult trek up the mountain and completing the hike is quite an accomplishment, said Scott Gediman, National Park Ranger and spokesman for Yosemite National Park.

Event coordinators say the experience of being at the top of Half Dome would be a “paradigm shift,” or a change from one way of thinking to another, for those in attendance. It can give wounded warriors a new outlook about life and their experiences.

“The wilderness provides a sense of rejuvenation and the experience of being in a park owned by the American people offers a sense of pride,” said Gediman.

Although the National Park Service is not involved in the coordination of the event, they encourage people to visit the park and participate in such events, he said. 

According to Aaron, there were about 20 people in attendance for the hike last year, and even though not everyone who wants to participate can on Aug. 7 every year, they choose to hike up Half Dome as close to that date as possible.

Aaron has big hopes for the future of the memorial hike. If all plans come together, it will be scheduled to start Aug. 7 every year.

Future plans include having a Marine-specific hike that begins near Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., just outside Pickel Meadow, and trying to get a large Marine following, due to its proximity to West Coast Marine Corps bases.

“This hike will bring more of a Marine identity and hopefully get more injured Marines involved,” said Aaron.

If the Pickel Meadow hike comes together, the location would make the use of pack animals more convenient, said retired Maj. Gen. O. K. Steele, who went on the hike last year with his grandson in commemoration of the anniversary of Guadalcanal. This would assist the injured veterans during the hike.

“We’re looking for more people to get involved with the hikes,” said Aaron.

“Mainly, we would like volunteers who love nature and service members to assist with providing [participants] with the most memorable experience of their life,” he added.

This year, the 4th annual Lewis B. Puller Memorial Hike will begin Aug. 5 with the memorial ceremony being held Aug. 6. For more information call (718) 670-6718 or e-mail theedgedancer@gmail.com.


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