* Editor’s note: In the original publication of this story, Chuck Lewis Organization was incorrectly identified as “Walking for Veterans.” The actual name of the organization is “Walking for the Fallen.” The Website is also www.walkingforthefallen.com. We apologize for the error.
PRESTONSBURG — It may be true that you can’t truly know a man, until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes, but Chuck Lewis, who has been walking for four months and 20 days, for just over 2,600 miles, hopes his journey can shed some light on the plight of veterans in America.
Lewis, 62, a native of Ronan, Mont., has been working to support veterans for several years. His efforts began in his community, with a program called “Standing for the Fallen,” where, as he puts it, “I just stood around, asking for help.” However, following the suicide of a recently discharged Marine last summer, Lewis says he knew he had to do more.
“Last year a young Marine was discharged from the military on June 3, he was home by June 4, and we buried him on June 30,” says Lewis. The man left behind a wife and 1-year-old daughter. Lewis says that after that, he began looking into the suicide rate of servicemen and found that since 2005, more active duty members have died of suicide than in combat, and Lewis adds that the Defense Department doesn’t keep track of those men and women who have left active service.
Lewis, whose crusade began in Everett, Wash., and will cover 15 states, says his effort is centered around four points that he feel need to be addressed. Suicide awareness, societal guilt, patriotism, and fund raising.
“A lot of people like to use buzzwords about patriotism like ‘the cost of freedom,’” Lewis said. “Most of those people have no idea what that means. But the warrior does.”
Lewis is a Vietnam veteran, having served in a Marine Corps helicopter squad from 1970 to 1974.
“I had a lot of friends who gave up their lives defending their country, and the country has turned its back on them, and is doing the same to veterans now,” Lewis said.
Lewis says his belief in societal guilt is tied to the rate of suicide.
“I feel like my generation is responsible for raising a generation that is weak, and doesn’t know how to deal with stress and hardship, and I feel that’s why the suicide rate is so high,” Lewis said, who adds that veterans in general, and principles of patriotism are being marginalized in America. “No Child Left Behind. Every child is a winner. We don’t want anyone to have hurt feelings. But that isn’t reality.
“In reality there are winners and there are losers. When you are in combat, and your buddy next to you gets killed, there is no reset, there is no start over, it’s not a video game, and people don’t know how to deal with that.”
The reaction has been mostly positive Lewis says of his endeavor. “People are either really positive, or they ignore me. I haven’t had any negative reactions.”
The fundraiser aspect of his trip is going well, says Lewis, though he admits he wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted when he began. “It’s going well. I didn’t really know what to ask for. I’m not a professional fundraiser.”
According to his website, Chuck has been a competitive athlete for most of his life, racing bicycles, competing in triathlons, and distance running. As age began to rob him of his speed, he found the the only way to compete became to outlast the other competitors, eventually running ultra-marathon races up to 100 miles in length.
After an estimated six months, and just over 3,300 miles, Lewis’ journey will come to a conclusion at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C.
The monument inclucdes the names of nearly 60,000 killed or missing in Vietnam, scrawled across two black granite walls, a gentle reminder for whom this has all been. Lewis says he has never seen it before. “I’ve helped out with a few traveling walls, but I’ve never seen the real one.”
According to his website, Chuck has set a goal of $50,000 and has so far raised more than $26,000. He says that at the end of his trip, the money raised in each state will be returned to that state to help programs for the veterans, wounded and disabled, and their families.
To follow Lewis as he walks across the country, or make a donation to “Walking for the Fallen” visit the website at www.walkingforthefallen.com. Donations are accepted through mail to Walking for the Fallen~USA PO Box 581 Ronan, MT 59864, or at the website through pay pal. Chuck says he can also take donations in person by cash, credit, or check, or over the phone by credit. He can be reached at (406) 270-5735.