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Man biking for vets' mental health stops in Janesville

Janesville Gazette - 7/27/2019

Jul. 27--JANESVILLE -- Vietnam War-era U.S. Army veteran Tom Kingsbury rolled into Veterans Memorial Plaza in Traxler Park on Friday afternoon on a recumbent bike sheathed in a bullet-shaped plastic bubble decorated to look like the fuselage of a World War II fighter plane.

The man was glistening with sweat, tired from navigating the city's hills, and humble. Kingsbury said a few words to a crowd of 30 or 40 people during a ceremony that two regional veterans nonprofits had organized. In the crowd were a number of other vets in Marine Corps and Army garb and a local military honor guard.

Kingsbury's voice welled up with emotion as he asked people to remember the thousands of military combat veterans who struggle with mental anguish and suicidal thoughts.

"It's intense," Kingsbury said, waving his hands and trying to push out words that were choked with tears. "You've gotta have support."

Kingsbury, a native of the central Wisconsin town of Loyal, is on a 16-day sojourn to cemeteries and memorials for veterans throughout the state.

He is riding as part of "Heroes Ride," a memorial bicycling effort organized through The Highground, a nonprofit that operates a veterans memorial park in Neillsville.

The Highground works to raise awareness of mental illness and suicide in military combat veterans. Across the U.S., 22 vets die by suicide every day. Of those people, an average of about 14 have never sought help for the problems they face, The Highground's Executive Director Jon Weiler said.

Kingsbury has ridden 800 miles on his bike since earlier this month. He often arrives at his scheduled stops to find just a few people there to greet him--or no crowd at all.

VetsRoll, the Beloit-area nonprofit that organizes trips to war monuments in Washington, D.C., partnered with the Highground to muster up a crowd to meet Kingsbury in Traxler Park.

If he can keep going, Kingsbury will crisscross Wisconsin for 900 more miles, mostly on lonely state highways.

He's going 1,700 miles, representing the nearly 1,700 military men and women from Wisconsin who died or went missing in action since the Vietnam War.

Earlier this week, on a rural stretch of road west of Sheboygan, Kingsbury passed a man who pulled his car to the side of the road. The man jumped out of his car, stood to attention and snapped off a military salute as Kingsbury rode past.

"The man gave me the most precise military salute I've ever seen. I don't know who he was or where he came from." Kingsbury said. "What we're doing reached him somehow, though. He just knew we're out here, trying to help people."

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(c)2019 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.)

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