Walking for the Fallen

Marine vet raising awareness, funds with coast-to-coast trek
Sep. 03, 2013 @ 08:44 PM

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Chuck Lewis spent the last five months and three days walking from the Seattle area to Sanford, arriving Tuesday afternoon. Today, he’s likely on his way out of Sanford and onto the last three weeks of his journey to Washington, D.C.

The 62-year-old Lewis, of Montana, is walking across the country to raise awareness about issues close to his heart — suicide in the military, the guilt that weighs on combat veterans and a perceived loss of patriotism in American society.

“The Department of Defense said that since 2005, we’ve lost more active duty personnel to suicide than combat,” Lewis said Tuesday, standing on the side of Highway 42 a few miles west of Sanford. “When you take into account the 6,000 we’ve lost in combat, plus all those who have taken their lives after they left active duty, that is too, too many.”

He said that as someone who was deployed, he understands survivor’s guilt and other factors than can lead to suicidal thoughts. But by raising awareness through this cross-country journey, Lewis said, he hopes that fellow veterans realize they’re not alone. He also said that he has been pleasantly surprised by all the people who come to greet him who aren’t veterans.

“They just appreciate what our armed forces do for us and our freedoms,” he said. “There’s a lot of patriots out there, even if they’re not loud about it. And that’s been comforting to find.”

Lewis said no one has been mean to him, and he hasn’t had to fight off any bears, dogs or muggers, but many people do ignore him. He said that on a related note, one of his passions is fighting the kind of political correctness that has led people to ignore the country’s traditions and symbols that his fellow veterans fought to preserve.

In some places around the country, he said, the Pledge of Allegiance is optional in schools, the “Star-Spangled Banner” isn’t sung because of its violent imagery and students aren’t allowed to wear clothes decorated with American flags because it might offend their non-American classmates. He tried to volunteer to go to one school district and give a presentation on proper respect of the flag, Lewis said, but was stonewalled by administrators for years. And he blames it on political correctness.

“I had friends die in Vietnam, and they didn’t die for that crap,” he said. “And the men and women dying now didn’t sign up for that.”

He also said he was fed up by the other side of political correctness, in which society calls every veteran a hero — which he said he thinks is people’s way of dealing with their own guilt over how badly Vietnam veterans like him were treated when they came home. He said every veteran is a warrior, for sure, but to call them all heroes only takes away from those who truly were heroic.

“The rest of us, we’re just out there doing what’s right,” he said, although he did add that veterans, as well as law enforcement, deserve elevated respect — and that if people want to focus on a particular kind of 1 percent, they should give more attention to those men and women and less attention to the financial elite.

“In my opinion, there’s 1 percent of our country who care enough to put their life on the line for it,” Lewis said.

And no matter what financial bracket people may fall in, Lewis said, he’s also hoping for donations from those along the path of his travels. He said he’s not taking any of it for his own supplies and will give every penny to charities that he picks at the end of his journey, based on what the people who give him money say are their favorite causes or groups. He has already raised about $35,000, he said Tuesday, and is shooting for $50,000.

People who want to donate can visit his website at www.walkingforthefallen.com/donate or can find him on his route, pushing his cart laden with food, spare clothes, a tent and plenty of flags. From Sanford, he’ll be heading down U.S. 421 toward Clinton and then on toward a suburb of Jacksonville, where he’s meeting a former comrade in arms. He’ll then head to the D.C. area, where he’ll reunite with a wife he described as patient and understanding, pay his respects at Arlington National Cemetery and finally lay eyes on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.