The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), founded in 1889 by Civil War veterans, is one of the oldest labor unions in the United States and has a membership of 280,000 – a good percentage of which are veterans themselves. Having become used to proactive thinking and readiness while in the service, it stands to reason that they carry it into their future careers. Thus, when NALC announced its 2016 Heroes of the Year honorees last September, three of the eight recipients were veterans – two of which are Legionnaires.
Patrick Byrne of Lynn, Mass., received the Education Award. The Army veteran has been working with substance-abuse addicts and their families, as well as with the local homeless population, for 10 years. His motivation is a personal one – his son fought his own 20-year battle with addiction until his passing in January 2016. Byrne's experiences have led to a new initiative, “Silent No More,” started by NALC, the U.S. Postal Service and Magellan Health Care to provide support for families going through issues with mental health, substance abuse and suicide.
“My time in the Army formed me as a leader at a young age,” Byrne says. He served from 1971 to 1974, a large part of that in Germany. “I took the word ‘service’ seriously and have always felt a responsibility to give back …. My career as a carrier was merely an extension of that, as I was able to continue servicing my community.” He recently joined The American Legion, of which he says, “I really appreciate the opportunity to stay current on issues facing veterans and the opportunity to remain informed on legislation.”
Bradley Gentz of Osage, Iowa, received the Humanitarian of the Year Award. The Army veteran started running and training for marathons a few years ago and noticed a boy on his route, Ryan, who has spina bifida and is in a wheelchair. Having seen the benefits of running and training, Gentz thought he could do the same for Ryan. After befriending the boy and his family, they started running together from 5ks to marathons.
Gentz raised $7,500 to purchase a custom-built chair that he could push Ryan in while running. The duo has been featured in Runner’s World magazine and the Running with Ryan Facebook page has the latest on their races.
“It’s been a compelling story for everyone,” Gentz says, “and a lovely time.”
Gentz spent 15 years in the military, including seven years overseas and a tour in Iraq. As a member of Post 278 in Osage, Gentz makes sure to visit the post every Veterans Day. “The Legion is near and dear to my heart,” he says.
Michael Murphy of Florissant, Mo., received the Central Region Hero of the Year Award. On Oct. 28, 2014, the Marine Corps veteran and Navy reservist was on the scene when a man with a cinder block started going after nearby cars – and the people inside them. Murphy took the lead in subduing the man until the police could get there; it turned out to have been part of a carjacking attempt.
“I feel that my military training came into play when I had to evaluate the situation quickly and make a decision to ‘stay in the fight,’” Murphy says. “My self-defense and close-combat training came into play. And I felt that as a leader I had a responsibility to take action.”