THE BLOG

Richard Albero on Wounded Warriors and Presidential Leadership: Part II of His 1,200-Mile Yankee Trek

04/12/2015 09:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2015

When Hillary Clinton ran for the U.S. Senate, she went on a listening tour in New York.

Now that Clinton has announced that she is running for president in 2016, she could do worse than to replicate Richard Albero, who is more than 500 miles into his walk from Tampa, Fla., to Yankee Stadium. He has dedicated his 1,200 mile-trek to the memory of his nephew Gary, who passed away on 9/11, and to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Albero, who comes from a military family that lived for years in the Arthur Avenue section of the Bronx, is almost halfway through his journey. He has been on the road, walking roughly 17 miles a day, for the past six weeks through the South.

His epic quest is affording him the opportunity to go on his own listening tour, a chance not only to hear from the perspective of Southerners, some of whom have not known what or where the Bronx is, but also to hear his own thoughts, which he records on a tape every day.

Albero, whom I interviewed at the beginning of his adventure in March and again on Sunday, April 12, recently listened to the audio and heard his struggles on a particular day of walking.

"I must have had a hard time" that day, he told me over the phone, because in a brief clip he heard himself say, "help me here, man." He was talking to Gary, his late nephew, whom he often pictures in the sky with his mother, father and grandmother, "sitting on a cloud."

"People say I'm nuts," Albero said to me. In fact, Albero is a deeply spiritual and modest man, who was seeking inspiration that day from his late nephew. "I was calling out to Gary, 'give me some support.'"

Albero, who refers to himself as a "practicing Catholic," said that his feet "always hurt." He alternates between three pairs of sneakers: Asics gels, Merrell low-cut boots when he hikes through "high weeds and there is nowhere to walk," and Brooks shoes.

He "has a couple of blisters," and he had "a little lag last week because of the rain and cold." But Albero, who served in the Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy Reserve around the time of the Vietnam War, is not prepared to deem himself a wounded warrior. "I never would put myself in that status," he said over the phone.

Albero has raised close to his original goal of $25,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project. He is hoping to reach $100,000 and has been helped with the fund-raising by Andrew Levy of New York-based Wish You Were Here Productions, a sponsor of the trek.

Albero's commitment to the military goes back a long way. His father served in World War II, and his brother was in the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Neither one of them returned with injuries from their service.

But Albero has great respect and compassion for those who have come back from combat with wounds and illnesses, both physical and psychological.

When asked how we as a country should deal with the toll on our troops, who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, Albero said that "number one is recognizing that it (the toll) does exist. " He pointed out that it is not an isolated phenomenon.

No one knows for sure how many veterans have PTSD and TBI, among other afflictions, but the number of suicides in our military is quite high by historical standards. As Albero said, "we ignore the large percentage of people that are affected." He added that many of those troops are "young," which he believes makes them even more susceptible to these injuries, some of which are hard to discern or diagnose.

Before Albero reaches Yankees Stadium, which is likely to occur, appropriately enough around Memorial Day Weekend, he will make a stop at the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan. He told me that there will be a luncheon and that he will place a wreath there in honor of Gary.

While Gary was alive, the running joke in the Albero family was that he was always late for everything. Gary was even late for the baptism of Albero's son, Dante, even though Gary had been named Dante's godfather.

In a tragic twist of fate, "the only time he was ever on time was for a business meeting" in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, as Albero told me over the phone.

As we talked, I asked Albero about other memories he had of Gary. He recalled driving to Boston with Gary during the day sometime around 1993 to see the Yankees play the Red Sox at Fenway Park. It was mid-week, but the two of them just decided on the spur of the moment to go and see the Bronx Bombers battle their rival.

Albero and Gary, as I wrote in part I of this series, enjoyed a rollicking car ride across the country when Gary was a teen, not yet old enough to drive legally. They shared a love for adventure and travel as well as a love for the Yankees, who rewarded them with so many championships.

As it turns out, the pinstripes are off to a poor start this season with a record of 1-4. That includes an embarrassing 8-4 loss to the Red Sox on April 11, in which the Yanks, heralded for their defense and fundamentals, made a series of errors and other miscues in the field and on the base paths.

That game followed by a few hours the club's 19-inning loss, a 6-5 heart-breaker to the Sox, a game that began on Friday night, concluded on Saturday morning, and lasted six hours and 49 minutes, the longest home game in minutes in the franchise's history.

As this article went to press, the Yankees were leading the Sox in the final game of their weekend series, but the club is clearly missing the leadership of Derek Jeter, as Albero predicted they would, a point he made in my first article on him back in March.

As for Hillary Clinton, she and other presidential contenders might heed the words of Albero, who said that the first principle of leadership is "consistency. When you form a policy, you can't let politics change that policy you believe in."

He added, "A really true leader can see the consequences of an action down the line."

For those who wish to donate, they can do so at richardsyankeeswalk.org.