Rain misted the crowd Saturday in front of the Music Pier as hundreds listened to Marine Staff Sgt. Brian Siegman.
Siegman was one of two featured guests at the eighth Walk for the Wounded on the Boardwalk. The annual 3-mile walk raises money for Operation First Response, which helps soldiers wounded on the job to pay bills and make ends meet.
Siegman served for nine years between 1999 and 2010 in two tours of duty in Iraq. After leaving the , he was a police officer for 3 1/2 years. He continues to battle post-traumatic stress disorder.
Siegman spoke about the plight of veterans returning from war. He said as many as 20 vets a day commit suicide.
“That’s because the war is not over once we come,” he said. “The risk for veterans to commit suicide is 21 percent higher than civilians.”
Siegman said it’s not just the young men and women returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but older veterans at retirement age may feel they no longer have a purpose in life.
“Once they retire, they lose that sense of whatever it is that keeps them going,” Siegman said. “PTSD can come on 40 years later.”
Siegman urged family members and friends of veterans to keep a close on eye on their loved ones.
“Nobody gets — unless you’ve been there yourself — the things that we go through,” he said, holding back tears. “But please, if you see a vet you there that needs help … the worst words out there are, ‘I’m fine.’
“Do not accept ‘I’m fine.'”
Siegman called several veterans onto the stage to praise them for their service.
Operation First Response founder Peggy Baker joined Army Sgt. Jesse Wallace and his mother, Sandra Engstrand, at the podium to present Wallace with a handcycle that was purchased partially through funds from the nonprofit.
In 2007, Wallace was deployed to Iraq for one year. During his next deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, he was severely injured when Taliban forces attacked his convoy. After undergoing an above-knee amputation, Wallace retired from the Army and is now pursuing a degree in engineering.
Wallace led the walk Saturday on the handcycle.
Steven Brady, president and CEO of Ocean City Home Bank, which sponsors the event, brought Walk for the Wounded to Ocean City in 2009. Spokeswoman Tricia Ciliberto said 600 walkers attended Saturday, including many veterans and several members of the Fire Department.
Firefighter Dan Coan, of Upper Township, said it was important to him because many veterans are in the fire department.
“It’s nice to know that people that need help are getting it,” Coan said. “It’s a shame that not everyone gets the help they need.”
New this year was a sand sculpture on the beach at Moorlyn Terrace created by John Gowdy, a New Jersey-based sand sculptor.
Organizers hoped to raise more than $100,000 this year for Operation First Response. The final figure was not available Saturday.