Veteran walks 22 miles for 22 Everyday

Raises over $11,000 for veteran suicide prevention and awareness program


Around noon on June 1, in front of the Dunton Inn in East Patchogue, 77-year-old Marine veteran Roger Fonnest walked straight down the middle of South Country Road with his head held high.

With his relaxed demeanor and steady pace, no one would have guessed the East Patchogue native just walked 22 miles.

Lining both sides of the road were around 50 motorcyclists clapping and cheering as Fonnest came to the end of his 22-mile walk, in which he walked 22 miles in two days to raise money for Amvets 22 Everyday, a veterans suicide prevention and awareness program.

As Fonnest completes his trek, he copiously thanks everyone for coming, and gives one modest request. “Somebody buy me a beer.”

Fonnest’s walk was broken down into two phases. On Friday, May 31, Fonnest walked 14 miles, and on Saturday, Fonnest completed the remaining 8 miles with support from the community. The veteran trekked from the Dunton Inn, up South Country Road to Main Street, where he walked to the Blue Point Brewery and made a U-turn, returning to the Dunton Inn.

Fonnest’s involvement with 22 Everyday began about four years ago. After his son attempted suicide—and was, thankfully, unsuccessful—the importance of mental health was brought to the forefront of Fonnest’s mind. Fonnest and his son went to sign up for a walk in New York City and were disheartened by the exorbitant, mandatory costs required to sign up and fundraise in order to participate. When a fellow veteran suggested Fonnest instead walk 22 miles for 22 Everyday right in Patchogue, Fonnest was first introduced to the Amvets suicide prevention and awareness program.

It is estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide in the United States every day. Amvets 22 Everyday strives to decrease this disturbing statistic from 22 to zero; thus, the National 22 Everyday Program committee was established by Amvets at the 2017 National Convention.

22 Everyday is largely concerned with spreading awareness about the challenges veterans face when they return home and transition back to civilian life, and ensuring veterans know they are not alone. Members throughout the country dutifully create awareness about veteran suicide in their own individual communities, and 22 Everyday distributes packages of suicide prevention materials to committee members and Amvets posts.

As Fonnest finished the last leg of his walk, he was joined by a sea of Amvet riders from posts 18, 88, 48. Patrick Smith, a member of East Islip’s Post 18 Amvet riders and president of the local Amvet Riders Association, played a vital role in organizing Fonnest’s 22-mile walk and arranging the Amvet riders, plus individual motorcyclists, to join in. A 5-ton Army truck from Post 18 in East Islip even proceeded down South Country Road with Fonnest, transporting Long Island Blue Star Moms.

At the Dunton Inn, Fonnest was presented with a certificate from New York State Sen. Dean Murray, who represents the 3rd Senate District.

“I want to recognize you for bringing attention to something that there is not enough attention paid to, and that is our returning veterans,” said Murray. “Losing 22 per day on average is really a disgrace. We need to do more. And it starts by doing events like this, bringing focus to the problem, so we can focus on trying to solve it.”

Rosemarie Kluepfel, president of the Long Island Blue Star Moms Chapter NY6—a nonprofit organization composed of mothers of active-duty Armed Forces and veterans—also shared remarks.

“The idea that 24 percent of those returning from serving today will have post-traumatic stress  is completely concerning to the community at large,” expressed Kluepfel. “These are our heroes. If we cannot take care of them, we are going to be lost.”

Kluepfel also shared that on June 19, the Blue Star Moms are meeting at Amvets Post 48 in Ronkonkoma to have an exploratory meeting to determine what can be done collectively to help returning veterans.

As everyone settled in, attendees began to delight in the festivities. Live music and a cash bar—with a portion of proceeds going toward 22 Everyday—provided lively entertainment for everyone. A 90-pound pig roast and countless trays of delicious food satiated all guests.

Over 60 raffle items of all shapes and sizes were up for grabs in the bar. All raffle items were donated from organizations and companies across Long Island, a heartwarming testament to how our communities care for veterans. 

Fonnest was presented with a $500 check from Amvets 111, a $1,000 check from the nonprofit Patchogue Elks Lodge, and a $750 check from the Eastern Long Island Police Pipes and Drums.

During his first walk, Fonnest raised $3,000 for 22 Everyday, and then raised $9,000 during last year’s walk. The contributions of generous donors, and attendees participating in the variety of raffles at the Dunton Inn, funded this year’s charitable donation, totaling upwards of $11,120, to 22 Everyday.

A humble man, Fonnest continuously thanked all who attended.

“I want to thank you bikers, you are phenomenal,” commended Fonnest. “This is all about you, the money raised is all because of people like you.”


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