Making a trek across the country is something many do just to see if they can, but for Sgt. Chuck Lewis of Montana his cross-country walk isn’t about him. Lewis is walking for his fallen comrades, raising awareness and funds with every step he takes. His journey has taken him all the way to North Carolina, and on Friday, he stepped into Sampson County.
Lewis, a United States Marine Corps (USMC) and United States Navy Reserve (USNR) veteran, created the “Walking for the Fallen — USA” project when he learned that a young, recently discharged Marine took his own life less than a month after returning home.
“He separated (was discharged) on June 3, came home June 4, and we buried him June 30,” shared Lewis as he stood on the shoulder of Hwy. 421 in the Midway district early Friday afternoon. “He left behind a wife and a 1-year-old daughter.”
With the loss of this young serviceman on his mind, Lewis began researching the prevalence of suicide in the military; the numbers he found were alarmingly high.
According to Lewis’ website, “the Department of Defense has stated that since 2005, our military has lost more ‘Active Duty’ military to suicide than we have lost in ‘Combat.’ To numerically state this, more than 6,000 have been lost to suicide.”
Lewis became even more concerned when he learned that those high numbers do not include the suicides among discharged servicemen.
In hopes of raising awareness about the prevalence of suicide among military men and women, Lewis set out in March on a six-month walk, one that began in Washington state and will end in Washington, D.C. at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where he plans to arrive on Sept. 25.
“I’m not a good speaker,” said Lewis. “I’ve always been one to lead by example so this (walking) works well for me, being out here, being visible, being in people’s faces.”
Thus far on his journey, despite encountering rain and having to camp out in the snow in Washington state, Lewis has fared well, walking between 20 to 25 miles a day.
On the North Carolina leg of the trek, Lewis noted that the weather has been particularly nice. “It’s been bluebird weather, blue skies and sunshine.”
One of the most difficult aspects of the trip is being separated from family, said Lewis, specifically mentioning how he misses his wife whom he saw at the one month mark, the three month mark, and will soon see again at the sixth month mark.
Wanting his efforts and sacrifices to accomplish all that they possibly can, Lewis hopes that, in addition to raising suicide awareness, the walk will also set an example in patriotism because the lack of true patriotism he has seen in the country, particularly in the nation’s schools, troubles him.
For example, he described how some schools in Illinois will not play the National Anthem and how some schools in Montana, his home state, will not allow veterans to visit and speak with students.
And North Carolina is not excluded. Lewis added that when he recently visited a school in North Carolina the students would not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because their classroom did not have an American flag.
“They gave the children electronic tablets but they can’t afford flags for the classrooms?” asked Lewis, obviously bewildered. “I gave them the flag that I carried across the country to put up in their classroom.”
“All that doesn’t set well with me because men and women have died for our country,” he stressed.
According to his website, Lewis hopes “to remind folks, across our country, that ‘Cost of Freedom’ is not just a buzz-phrase and it certainly is not free! American men and women have shed blood and given their lives for our country. I hope that there never becomes a time when one might think that their sacrifice was in vain.”
Lewis also admitted that he carries a sense of guilt with him on his walk.
“My generation is responsible for programs like ‘No Child Left Behind” and ‘Every Child is a Winner,” he noted, explaining that these programs, although they seem good in thought, are not in reality benefiting today’s younger generation, something he finds concerning since that is the generation now entering the military.
“Reality is that in most real day situations there are, in fact, winners and losers,” Lewis points out on his website. “Feel good programs are simply a disservice to these children when they ‘graduate’ into the real world.”
Lastly, Lewis is walking to raise funds for programs supporting wounded and disabled veterans and their families. Lewis’ goal is to raise $50,000 and he’s well on his way, having already raised around $35,000.
“I keep track of how much money I make in each state and then I’m going to put that money back into that state for those kinds of programs,” shared Lewis.
Before hitting the pavement again, Lewis expressed his thanks for the sacrifice that the nation’s military personnel, law enforcement officers, and firefighters make everyday.
“Today you hear a lot about everyone being a hero and some are but not everyone. Everyone is a warrior but not everyone’s a hero,” said Lewis. “In reality, there’s that true one percent than care enough about this country to write a blank check for it with their life…I want to thank them.”
Upon leaving Sampson County, Lewis planned to walk through the Warsaw area on Saturday and then through Richlands on Sunday.
To learn more about Lewis and his “Walking for the Fallen — USA” project, please visit his website at walkingforthefallen.com. There, interested persons can read his blog, track his journey, and donate to his cause.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.