Help local veterans Walk for Wounded Warriors set May 11; president of organization visits Lititz
LAURIE KNOWLES CALLANAN Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Helen Sajer was one of the lucky mothers. Her son Lt. Col. Frank Sajer came back from Iraq alive, and uninjured.
She and her husband, Maj. General Gerald Sajer, were so grateful, the idea for Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors was born.
"We realized that there were so many soldiers who were wounded and we wanted to do something to help them and their families," said Helen Sajer as she spoke to the Ladies Auxiliary of the Lititz Springs VFW Post 1463 last month.
The auxiliary is sponsoring the Lititz Walk for Wounded Warriors to benefit Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, Inc. on Saturday, May 11.
This event will help to raise funds to help wounded soldiers and their families with everything from electric bills to medical bills that are not covered by government programs.
Sajer is careful to point out that Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors is not affiliated with the National Wounded Warriors Project. It serves only Pennsylvania soldiers and their families, in a very direct way.
"All they have to do is ask for help, and we try to help in whatever way we can," said Sajer, adding that sometimes the help might involve arranging for a family to spend the day at Hersheypark, or for soldiers to go hunting for turkey or deer.
And Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors helps soldiers and their families in true emergencies, like when they need medical care or the heat is about to be turned off in the middle of the winter.
Since the Sajers started Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors in 2006, they have helped hundreds of soldiers and their families, with rent and security deposits, electric bills, gas and fuel oil bills, other utility bills, groceries, gas for their cars and more.
They have assisted in funeral expenses for wounded warrior veterans. They have helped with medical bills not covered by TRICARE. They have even helped to pay for pest control in apartments with bugs.
"These are all small ways we can help, but they make a big difference," said Sajer.
And then there are the fun things, the things that help to lift spirits and show that the people at home in Pennsylvania care about their wounded warriors. Tastycakes and iTunes cards were purchased for soldiers undergoing longterm rehabilitation at military hospitals. Soldiers and their families were treated to days at Hershey, riding the roller coasters and carousel. They got to go to a baseball game at the Harrisburg Senators ballpark. Ski trips for disabled veterans have helped to restore hope and self-esteem for amputees.
"A dinner honoring wounded warriors on Veterans Day weekend last year raised tens of thousands of dollars for our soldiers, and gave them and their families a free night out," said Sajer.
Not bad for an organization of three officers and many volunteers. Sajer is the president of Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, while Al Kilfer is treasurer, and Dan Ocko is secretary. They started out with just $4,000 for wounded warriors. Now those numbers top $65,000 and steadily rises with the generosity of the public.
Last year, Maj. General Gerald Sajer died. But before his death, he asked his wife if she planned to continue Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, would she still march on?
"This is my life’s work, my purpose," she said. "There was no question."
Looking back at how the organization got started, the mother of six and grandmother of 15 was always helping others, whether it was bringing food to a sick neighbor or babysitting one of her cherished grandchildren, or all 15 of them!
The Sajers started out in a simple way, driving to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington, D.C. to visit with wounded soldiers, including many amputees and their families. Recovering soldiers explained that they had surgeries, physical therapy and doctor and nurse visits all week, but when the weekends came, they were just looking at each other, with nothing to do.
The Sajers began bringing wounded soldiers and their families for weekend trips to their farm in northern Adams County. Helen Sajer recalled the first families that came. There was one soldier, who was heavily medicated for depression and slept all afternoon. In the mornings, he would walk around the farm with his children. At the end of the weekend, the soldier told her, "This is the most relaxed we’ve been since we came back from Iraq."
PA Wounded Warriors started working with the VA Hospital in Lebanon and getting calls about other veteran needs. Privacy laws prevented the hospitals from providing names of wounded warriors who might need help, so word spread that PA Wounded Warriors was available as another resource for help and support.
What Sajer discovered was that the wounded soldiers and their families needed help in so many different ways. And that they were grateful for all the ways PA Wounded Warriors helped them.
One soldier told Sajer, "after we fought and came home, we thought they had forgotten us."
Sajer and PA Wounded Warriors are proving that the soldiers who have been wounded while fighting for their country have not been forgotten.
To participate in the Lititz Walk for Wounded Warriors, register with the Ladies Auxiliary of VFW Post 1463, 301 W. Maple St., Lititz. The registration fee is $10 per person and $15 per family, which goes toward PA Wounded Warriors. You can also make a donation, if you are unable to participate in the walk.
Maps are available for the Lititz Walk for Wounded Warriors at the VFW and and many of the supporting Lititz businesses. Community sponsors for the Lititz Walk include Lititz recCenter, Kiwanis, Lions Club, Lititz Ambucs, Tiger’s Eye, Charles F. Snyder, Clemintine’s, Luther Acres, Kozloff Stoudt, Weaver Energy, Lititz Mutual, Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, Heavenly Soaps & Scents, WHS Interact Club, Susguehanna Bank, Joel and Susan Ellis, Penn Dutch Pacers, Sonnie’s Secret and Think Silk.
To learn more about PA Wounded Warriors, check the website at www.pawoundedwarriors.org.
More WOUNDED WARRIORS, page A3