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    ‘Silkies Hike’ raises awareness of veterans’ suicides

    John Blanding/Globe Staff
    The Silkies hike stopped on State Street to raise awareness of military suicide prevention.

    Dressed in short silk shorts and heavy boots, more than 200 veterans hiked through Boston Saturday to raise awareness of military suicide prevention.

    The “Silkies Hike” so named for the very-short shorts worn in military training, stepped off from Castle Island and wound through Boston before ending at Faneuil Hall.

    Vets toted heavy gear on their backs, and some shed their shirts, to make a bold statement about a serious mental health issue facing the military.

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    “We lose 22 vets a day to post traumatic stress,” said Allan “Gunnie” Katz, 64, who has led the march for the past three years. “We haven’t had a day with zero [suicides] in 14 years. We don’t want to lose any more veterans.”

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    A veteran who identified himself only as Mike said he was marching for the first time. He carried an American flag, along with the shorts and bag of a friend who died by suicide four months ago.

    “He was my best friend,” Mike said. “He left behind three children”

    Many marchers wore titanium rings on their trigger finger, a symbol of hope that a veteran would reach out to call someone if they are suicidal.

    “ When your looking down at your trigger and you see that ring, you know you can call someone,” Katz said.

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    The “Silkies March” also aims to bring humor and levity to a sobering issue. Boisterous chants brought an air of camaraderie and excitement as hiked through the city. There were occasional stops at bars and pubs, too.

    The friendly, informal setting helps veterans to loosen up and speak freely, Katz said.

    “We found that if we hit a barroom or take a walk, they’ll open up more, where normally they wouldn’t,” said Katz. “We also have a lot of women on the hike and they can usually get stuff out of the guys that I couldn’t get.”

    His son, a Marine, has done multiple combat tours. He’s sought counseling to deal with his experiences in combat. But when Katz finished his service in Vietnam, there was no support services available, he said.

    “He’s doing well,” Katz said. “But, when I came back, they didn’t consider it post traumatic stress until the Gulf War, which isn’t fair.”

    Jacob Geanous can be reached at jacob.geanous@globe.com