Army Lt. Dan Berschinski, of Peachtree City, GA
Ed. Note: Lt. Dan Berschinski of Peachtree City returned home Thursday from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Thursday night the Fayette County Commission recognized him and Lt. Robert Wilson Collins, who was killed in Iraq April 7. On Saturday, everyone is invited to participate in events honoring Lt. Berschinski and all others who have sacrificed in service to the USA.
This is a re-post of the article originally published on 11Alive.com last week detailing the events on Saturday. Volunteers have aquired 5,000 American flags to distribute to people lining Highway 54 to salute Lt. Berschinski. They hope they'll be able to give away every flag.
PEACHTREE CITY, GA (May 18, 2010) -- Army 1st Lt. Dan Berschinski is coming home.
Lt. Berschinski was nearly killed in an IED explosion in Afghanistan on Aug. 18, 2009. His severe wounds included the loss of both legs.
Friends and neighbors in Peachtree City rallied to support him and his family during his extensive surgeries and long recuperation and rehab at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. People Lt. Berschinski didn't even know also heard about his recovery and his needs, and began writing letters and contributing to a fund for him.
They've kept up with his progress on a blog that a family friend set up, which his brother now maintains.
Lt. Berschinski is coming home next week, the week of May 24th, his first break from months of daily training learning to walk again.
The same friends and neighbors who have made sure that he and his family were never alone throughout their ordeal of the past nine months are organizing a homecoming celebration, for Saturday, May 29th -- Memorial Day weekend.
They want to thank him for his service.
But he said he's the one who is grateful.
"I just want to say thanks to everybody" in person at the celebration, Lt. Berschinski told 11Alive News during a telephone interview on Tuesday -- nine months to the day since he was wounded.
"There are a lot of people who are really busting their butts and working hard to help me out as much as possible," which he said has helped motivate him even more to succeed at his sometimes grueling rehab.
"I'm alive, so I can't just sit down and allow myself to deteriorate and quit," he said. "I really have no other choice but to try," for himself and for all the people who are rooting for him and encouraging him.
He takes pride in his progress, amazed at how far he's come thanks to the help of the specialists at Walter Reed.
"I spend Monday through Friday at the hospital, going through rehab at the clinic, practicing walking," Lt. Berschinski said. "I mean, I can go up and down stairs. I walked a quarter of a mile. I'm walking with two canes, now... walking further, faster every day."
In his spare time, he and other soldiers try to comfort, encourage and motivate the new arrivals to Walter Reed. And everyday, he said, more wounded soldiers arrive. They meet the patient with no legs and bountiful optimism, and hear him tell them they're going to be okay.
He described his high-tech prosthetics as a mix -- part artistry, part science and mechanics, and totally amazing.
"They actually have microprocessors and sensors in the soles of the feet, so it can tell when I'm putting body weight into the foot... so it'll actually relax the knee and allow it to bend and sling forward," he said.
He hopes that, at the day-long celebration, people will only pay attention to him "for about the first 10 minutes," and then focus their thoughts on all the others in uniform who serve and sacrifice for U.S. freedom.
"I would love for this event to be something that becomes, in some way or another, an annual gathering, where Peachtree City and the surrounding area say thanks for all of our veterans and those that have served," he said.
"We are so grateful and thankful," Lt. Berschinski's mother, Susan Berschinski, said in Peachtree City on Tuesday.
"I don't think Daniel, as much as we've told him, really understands how much that people he knows and people he's never met really care about him, and I think he's going to be thrilled" at the turnout on the 29th, she said. "I think it's going to be wonderful. The support that he's received from the community has been exceptional, and I would wish that for every soldier."
"It's been nine months," said family friend Ric O'Brien Tuesday. "And we're going to give him a real hero's welcome home." O'Brien is helping organize the motorcycle motorcade that will escort Lt. Berschinski from Fayetteville to the welcome home ceremony in Peachtree City.
"We always said that when he came home, we were going to, absolutely, give him the biggest welcome home he could ever have," said another family friend, Rainy Chastine.
For nine months -- as Chastine helped raise money and frequent-flier miles so the Berschinski family could be with Lt. Berschinski as much as possible at Walter Reed -- she has displayed a big, yellow ribbon and bow on the trunk of the old hardwood shade tree in the front yard of her photography business in Fayetteville. She is happy that the motorcade will take Lt. Berschinski right past it, "in front of my studio with the yellow bow that is kind of raggedy, right now, but it's been there waiting for Dan to come home."
She will distribute hundreds more yellow ribbons and bows, donated by local merchants, for display in downtown Fayetteville during the motorcade.
There is no budget for the homecoming celebration, Chastine said, and organizers are not touching the funds that have already been raised for Lt. Berschinski. She said individuals, merchants and businesses are contributing everything needed for the events. Local law enforcement personnel will be providing traffic control for the motorcade.
After the homecoming celebration on Saturday, May 29, and some additional time off, Lt. Berschinski will return to Walter Reed to continue his rehab.
* The homecoming begins with a 5K fundraiser for Lt. Berschinski, the "All American 5K," at 8 a.m. at Frederick Brown Amphitheater in Peachtree City. Track has always been one of Lt. Berschinski's favorite sports, and he will be there for the start and for the award ceremonies. Contributors, whether they participate or simply donate, will get t-shirts or hats (which were donated by local merchants); winners in each age group will get medals, tailor-made for the occasion and also donated by local businesses. Go to www.ptcrc.com and click on All American 5K to download an application. Organizers are trying to get a head count as soon as possible in order to make sure they have enough t-shirts, hats and medals.
* Motorcycle Escort into Peachtree City sponsored by the Patriot Guard Riders and Great South Harley-Davidson begins at 11:50 a.m. from Fayette County High in Fayetteville. Everyone is invited to line the 10-mile-long route to wave flags and cheer as Lt. Berschinski goes by. (The route is below).
* Peachtree City -- City Hall Ceremony at 1:00 p.m. A stage and sound system will be set up. Colors will be presented by Lt. Berschinski's former Scout Troop 175, and a short program will be presented culminating with remarks from Lt. Berschinski.
* Free concert performed by the award winning Army Ground Forces Band beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Frederick Brown Amphitheater in Peachtree City. There will be speakers as well as a tribute video & narration. All residents have an opportunity to honor their family members who are serving or who have served in the Armed Forces, including those who have died, by visiting the Peachtree City municipal website. More names are needed. Go to www.peachtree-city.org and click on Help Peachtree City Honor our Troops for Memorial Day .
For more information about the homecoming, go to http://danberschinski.blogspot.com/
Saturday, May 29, Memorial Day Weekend Escort Route
Organizers are hoping to fill as much of the ten-mile-long Escort route (which begins in Fayetteville and ends in Peachtree City) with people cheering Lt. Berschinski and waving American flags that will be distributed at various sites along the route.
The Patriot Guard Riders and Great South Harley Motorcycle escort route for Lt. Berschinski is as follows:
* Exiting Fayette County High School on Tiger Trail at 11:50 a.m.:
* Left on Hwy 54 past Fayetteville Courthouse Square to Jeff Davis
* Left on Jeff Davis and left again on Hwy 54 rounding the Square to Peachtree City
* Hwy 54 Fayetteville to Peachtree City 8.5 miles
* Left (south) on Peachtree Parkway
* Right on McIntosh Trail
* Left (south) on Hwy 74
* Left on Crosstown Road
* Left (north) on Peachtree Parkway
* Left (west) on Hwy 54
* Left on Willow Bend Road
* Ending at Peachtree City's City Hall for 1pm Ceremony.
American Flags will be distributed at the following viewing locations along the route:
Fayetteville Courthouse Square
Smith and Davis Clothing Store
Ace Hardware PTC
Chick-Fil-A on Hwy 54
CardSmart in the Braelinn Shopping Center
Along the Parkway, Courtesy of JC Booth Science Olympians
PTC City Hall Park