LAKE PLACID - A 16-year-old from the Troy area helped bring a group of more than 60 people, including military veterans and their families, here on Wednesday to tour Olympic sites and dine at the American Legion Post 326.
Matt Murray, of Brunswick, is a junior at Tamarac High School and a member of Boy Scouts of America Troop 537. The Lake Placid trip was part of his Eagle Scout project, which he hopes to complete soon.
"I took a bus of veterans and their teenage kids up to the Lake Placid area, to the venues, and I basically fundraised and allowed them for a day to just enjoy all of the things Lake Placid has to offer," Murray said.
Matt Murray, (center, red T-shirt) brought more than 60 veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and their family members to Lake Placid on Wednesday for a tour of the area’s Olympic venues. The trip was part of his Eagle Scout project.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
The day started with bobsled rides and biathlon target shooting at the Olympic Sports Complex. From there, Murray brought the group to the Olympic Jumping Complex, where they took rides to the top of the ski jumps, ate lunch and viewed the weekly freestyle show.
Next up were gondola rides on Whiteface Mountain, tours of the Olympic Museum and shopping in downtown Lake Placid. The day wrapped up with a dinner at the American Legion hall.
Alan Matheson, of Melrose, was a construction mechanic with the U.S. Navy and served in Iraq in 2005. Speaking at the base of the 90- and 120-meter ski jumps, he was all smiles.
"The kid is incredible," Matheson said. "What he's doing is wonderful. We're having a wonderful time. I'm hoping to get back and ride the bobsled, I'm going to ride the gondola, and just enjoy this beautiful day, ya know?"
Murray said he began planning his Eagle Scout project about two years ago when he volunteered at a barbecue organized by Patriot Hills of New York.
"They gave me a sign, I stood by the road, and I tried to wave people in and bring in business," he said. "When I was done with that, while I was eating, I got to talk to a lot of the veterans.
"I heard Jeannine Mannarino, the president of Patriot Hills, talk. And it was her story, the mission statement that Patriot Hills had, that I realized it's a big issue: our veterans, and helping them reintegrate and making them feel comfortable when they get back from serving overseas.
"So this is my way of helping that cause; it's something that more should be done about, and this is me trying to kick-start a bigger movement to help our veterans out when they get back."
Mannarino is president, CEO and founder of Patriot Hills of New York, a Schenectady-based veterans rehabilitation and reintegration organization. She said Murray, the youngest of her nearly 50 volunteers, has taken a strong interest in helping service members as they return from combat.
"He recognized at that very young age of 14 that we all have to pull together as a nation to help our veterans," Mannarino said.
Murray had to raise about $5,000 for the trip to Lake Placid. To reach that goal, he held a pancake breakfast at the Center Brunswick Volunteer Fire Company, raffled three flags from Gettysburgh Flag Works and hosted a bowl-athon at Uncle Sam Lanes.
He also wrote to local politicians, business people and civic leaders, asking them to sponsor a soldier for the trip. He said the good will of people in his community helped him reach his goal.
Murray said the project has been a resounding success.
"It's hard to put into words how I feel right now," he said. "It's been two years. I talked to the combat vets, I talked to the Patriot Riders group - we were rolling into Lake Placid with 30 bikes as an escort. We had a sheriff in front to hold off side streets so we could get in through intersections easier.
"The general mood of the participants - they're all happy, they're all enjoying themselves," Murray added. "That's what this is about: Letting them create good, new memories, quality memories, for them to have forever."
Murray's father, Larry, is charter organization representative for Matt's Boy Scout troop. The pride for his son's work was clear as he spoke about the project.
"So here we are today and everybody is enjoying themselves, they're just having a very nice time, enjoying the facilities at ORDA, and it's special," Larry said. "It's my son, so it's really hard for me to talk about him. I'm just proud as punch, his mom is proud as punch and I'm just honored to be in his company. He's a good man and a good friend."