The battle has not ended for two wounded veterans who attended a special event Friday, Feb. 20, at Conroy’s Bear Lake Resort.
Held in conjunction with the Manawa Snodeo, the Ride With the Vets event invited two disabled veterans as special guests: Army Spc. Justin Lane, of San Antonio, Texas, and Brandon Cacek, of Appleton.
The event included a lunch, snowmobile rides for veterans and a bus ride along the regular snowmobile route, which is closed due to lack of snow.
Lane, an Army veteran, was invited to attend by Snodeo Chairman David Sarna.
Now a double-amputee, Lane served under Master Sgt. Sarna in Afghanistan, where he was severely wounded in July 2011.
“I haven’t seen him since he was wounded,” Sarna said. “I used to kick box with this guy and all of a sudden he doesn’t have any legs to kick with.”
In a touching moment, Lane stood up and sang the National Anthem.
He also drove a snowmobile.
“I’m still a soldier at heart,” Lane said. “Now I get to motivate people.”
He is motivated to remain upbeat to honor the memory of a friend he lost in Afghanistan.
While serving near Kandahar, Afghanistan, Lane was on patrol when his truck was hit by a 200-pound Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
He lost both his legs and suffered 24 other injuries. He was in a coma for 1 ½ months and hospitalized for another year.
The doctors said he would never walk again, even with prosthetics.
“I am very stubborn, so I was dead-set on walking normal again with prosthetics,” Lane said.
It was estimated it would take him two years to learn to walk, but he walked out of the hospital in six months.
Walking was not his toughest task.
“For wounded veterans, there is enough physical help available, sometimes enough emotional help, but never enough financial help,” he said.
“Most of the guys coming back have a tough time financially, especially if they have families to support,” Lane said. “The money dwindles very quickly.”
He said there is no financial help provided through the Wounded Warrior fund.
“They just redirect you to another organization,” Lane said.
He suggested that people could help on the local level rather than donating to a national charity. “Adopt a local wounded warrior,” he said.
Financial problems leave some wounded soldiers homeless.
“My family has been homeless,” Cacek said.
The ex-Marine was hit by shrapnel while serving in Afghanistan in November 2011.
He continues to undergo surgical procedures for his back injury, is still dealing with other health issues due to his injuries and currently cannot find employment.
Through the GI Bill, he was able to earn a masters degree in Organizational Leadership and Quality.
With a wife and two young children, he said, “It’s paycheck to paycheck and the money doesn’t last long. That’s how I live my life. It’s a continual battle.”
According to Cacek, his children, ages 6 and 8, have never had cable TV or gone on a family vacation.
Recently the Homeless Veterans Program provided the family with housing assistance. They still need to rely on food pantries, state aid for healthcare and Toys for Tots.
“When you live on the lower echelon of society, you really appreciate pretty much everything,” Cacek said.
It is a two-year process to apply for veteran disability benefits, he said.
“There is assistance out there for disabled vets, but you have to ask for it, you have to be persistent and you need to keep asking,” he said.
Ride With the Vets was organized by area snowmobile racer Burton Brown. He had seen similar events held at the Bonneville salt flats.
This is the second year the event has been held in Manawa.
“We wanted to show respect for all the veterans,” Brown said. “This is for the vets today.”
Many local veterans were in attendance, including Bob Wegener, 91, of Manawa, a veteran of World War II.
Wegener served in the U.S. Army from 1943 through 1946.
“I was in Tokyo the day before they signed the peace treaty,” he said. “The city was empty because the people had gone to hills. They had been told they would all be killed.”
“It is really frightening to get into a city and there’s not a soul there, not a soul,” he said.
Wegener was part of an anti-aircraft battalion that included about 32 soldiers from Waupaca County, 200 from Fond du Lac and 150 from Iron County, Michigan.
The unit served in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines before arriving in Japan on Sept. 1, 1946. He arrived home in December 1946.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, but I wouldn’t want to do it again,” Wegener said. “There were some good days and there were some bad days.”