May 31 2022
Nathan Havenner | Messenger-Inquirer
Active service members, veterans and community members assembled Monday morning at the Charles E. Shelton Freedom Memorial in Smothers Park for a Memorial Day ceremony conducted by the new VET (Veterans Empowered Together) organization.
Veteran Derek Van Tuyl, event founder, said the event, which included a memorial ceremony and 11-mile walk, traces its origins to April 29, 2013, when he was alone in his home in Whitesville, the anniversary of a tragic day during his time as a combat medic in the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“At that time, I had just months ago left the Army and found myself here in Kentucky, far away from my friends and family,” he said. “It was a hard day for me, I knew I was going to be sad. I just didn’t know what to do about it.”
Van Tuyl said he did not want to sit home alone or “tip a bottle” to forget the day that he lost one of his comrades and several others were wounded.
“I just happened to be walking through my house when I saw my American flag sitting by the front door and I thought to myself, I should go for a walk to clear my mind and remember a brother who didn’t make it home,” he said.
After lacing up his boots and taking his flag in hand, Van Tuyl began walking with no clear destination in mind.
“I made it all the way down Highway 54 and eventually turned towards the river and ended in this very spot,” Van Tuyl said. “The almost 17-mile trek provided much time for reflection, tears and some healing.”
He knew then that there could be a walk to not only remember his friends on difficult anniversaries, but on Memorial Day to honor all those that have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.
“Today is not about their service, it is about their sacrifice,” he said.
Van Tuyl said he encourages his fellow Americans to enjoy Memorial Day, but to also take some time to remember why there is a Memorial Day, and what that day means for the families of those who gave their lives while serving.