MONTPELIER: May 20, 2014: Two United State Marines are making a coast to coast bicycle charity ride in honor of their fallen friend, fellow US Marine Lance Corporal Johnny Strong, who lost his life to a sniper bullet while on patrol in Al Anbar Province on June 12, 2007. US Marine Sergeant Jay Knight and Corporal Denny Salisbury departed the Boston Convention Center on April 11, 2014 and expect to complete their journey on August 30, 2014 in Seattle Washington. The two American heroes passed through Fulton and Williams County on their cross-country trek, and The Village Reporter had an opportunity to set down with these two veterans and learn about their amazing journey.
Pax2Pax: The Johnny Strong Charity Ride for Child’s Play was the idea of Sgt Knight and Cpl Salisbury to honor the memory of their platoon mate, Johnny Strong. According to the charities information page (Pax2Pax: The Johnny Strong Charity Ride for Child’s Play), “LCpl Johnny Strong was serving as a mortar man with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was assigned to Mobile Assault Company, Mobile Assault Platoon 2, Bravo Squad. He was quiet for a Marine, but a hard worker and possibly the best humvee driver I have ever seen. During what was our second tour to Iraq, we started to discuss what we wanted to do once we got out of the Marine Corps. Johnny wanted to join the video game industry and learn how to create video games. He was an avid gamer. He was never far from a piece of electronic entertainment and would rent out his games and movies while we spent time back at base. This earned him the nickname “Best Buy.” Tragically, his dream to join the video gaming industry would not come to pass. On June 12th, 2007, Johnny Strong made the ultimate sacrifice. While conducting a security patrol in Al Anbar Province, Johnny was shot and killed by an enemy sniper. He had been one of the first to volunteer to do an extra security sweep around the perimeter of the platoon’s temporary forward operating base. He had just turned twenty-one two weeks prior.”
Pax2Pax has 4 goals: 1. To honor Lance Corporal Johnny Strong; 2. To raise awareness and funds for Child’s Play Charity, with a goal of raising $100,000.00; 3. To showcase how Children’s Hospitals across the country take care of children and how they use donations from Child’s Play; and 4. To inspire veterans to honor their fallen friends and to seek guidance and help in dealing with their grieving and loss.
Both Sgt Knight and Cpl Salisbury were deeply affected by the loss of LCpl Strong, and have had to deal with their own emotional issues since that tragic day 7 years ago. Sgt Knight spent several years recovering from the battlefield trauma he faced throughout his deployment and is undergoing his first long distance ride across country. Cpl Salisbury, shortly after the loss of platoon mate Strong, was himself the victim of an Improvised Explosive Device attack in which two other Marines (1st Lt. Blue and LCpl DeLattorre) lost their lives. Denny was severely wounded and spent over a year hospitalized as a result of his injuries, and has spent 6 years recovering from the trauma of his injuries he received. For Salisbury, cycling has been the vehicle that has been a key tool in his recovery and rides with the organization “Rides 2 Recovery. ”Salisbury has completed several long distance rides but is undergoing his 1st cross-country ride.
Proceeds from the long distance ride will go to the charity “Child’s Play.” Child’s Play, according to their information posted at (www.childsplaycharity.org), describes it’s mission as follows: “Since 2003, we’ve set up and organized Child’s Play, a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games in our network of over 70 hospitals worldwide. Over the years, you as a community have answered the call and come together to raise millions of dollars. Child’s Play works in two ways. With the help of hospital staff, we set up gift wish lists full of video games, toys, books, and other fun stuff for kids. By clicking on a hospital location on our map, you can view that hospital’s wish list and send a gift. Child’s Play also receives cash donations throughout the year. With those cash donations, we purchase new consoles, peripherals, games, and more for hospitals and therapy facilities. These donations allow for children to enjoy age-appropriate entertainment, interact with their peers, friends, and family, and can provide vital distraction from an otherwise generally unpleasant experience.” Knight and Salisbury’s efforts up to this point have generated $6,595.00 for the charity.
One of the goals of the team throughout the journey across America is to visit Children’s Hospitals and lend support to Child’s Play’s mission. Up to this point in the ride, Knight and Salisbury have visited over 20 Children’s Hospitals and they anticipate visiting over 100 on their charity ride. Knight stated when describing their visits “One of the occupations we really want to bring attention to is the Child Life Specialists, and the tremendous job they do in our Children’s Hospitals. Child Life Specialists are doing tireless work in helping children cope with long term and short term hospital stays, providing play for the children and helping to distract the kids from the trials they may be facing during their stay.”
The riding duo departed Perrysburg, Ohio at 8:30 a.m. on May 19, and arrived at the Ramada Inn in Holiday City, Ohio at approximately 4:00 p.m. On hand to lend support were several local residents welcoming them to Williams County. Jodi Fiser, owner of Wynns Restaurant at the Ramada provided free food and refreshments for the Marines and showed the hospitality Williams County residents are well know for. Additionally, greeting the Marines was Jeanette Hull, President of the Montpelier Chamber of Commerce. The two Marines spent the evening at the Ramada and departed on Tuesday, May 20 for Goshen, Indiana. Both riders will attend memorial ceremonies held for 1sdt Lt. Blue and LCpl DeLattorre in the upcoming weeks, and have several scheduled visitations to Children’s Hospitals as they continue their journey.
28-year-old Sgt Jay Knight originally hails from East Moline, Illinois and currently resides in Los Angles, California. Sgt Knight plans on beginning study for the Law School Admissions Test soon after completion of the cross-country ride, and would like to complete a Juris Doctorate in the near future. 27-year-old Cpl Denny Salisbury, from Kelseyville, California is looking forward to completing the ride so he can get back to his 4-year-old daughter Versailee, but first has another challenge lined up with “Rides 2 Recovery.” Cpl Salisbury will hand over duties to another friend of Sgt Knight in Denver, and depart for a ride in France along with other recovering vets in a European Riding Adventure.
Readers interested in supporting the Marines as they make their way across country may visit their face Book Page at Pax2Pax: The Johnny Strong Charity Ride for Child’s Play or by visiting Pax2Pax.org, where all scheduled events are posted, and a donation button is provided for those who wish to support to Marines in the cross-country charity ride.