Walking for the Fallen: Chuck Lewis in Carroll County
Lewis and his home-away-from-home and travel companion - the cart. When Craig Lang, Prairie Advocate photographer, caught up with Lewis Wednesday on Rt. 64 outside of Mount Carroll, he pointed out that Lewis was heading west - not east, saving him a few extra steps. (PA photo/Craig Lang)
By TOM KOCAL | Prairie Advocate News
The July heat has taken its toll on Chuck Lewis’ shoes, but not on his spirit. His 3300-mile walk from Everett, Washington to Washington D.C. honors the military and helps wounded veterans.
“This is my second pair,” he said. “I’ve got a new pair ready to go when needed.”
Sgt. Chuck Lewis, is a United States Marine Corps (USMC) and United States Navy Reserve (USNR) Veteran. After separating from the Corps, he went back to school, received a degree in Electronics Technology, and went to work for the Department of Defense at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, California in January of 1976. Over the next 27 years, he assisted with the Research and Development of Weapon Systems and Remote Control Devices. He also worked in the fields of Foreign Material Exploitation and Training.
He and Linda, his wife, raised six children in the desert community and after retiring in September of 2001, Linda, Michelle (their youngest), and he relocated to Ronan, Montana, where his wife runs a 7500-circulation, free community newspaper, “The Valley Journal.” It was here, at an Army friend’s funeral, that his Military roots began to resurface.
The 62-year-old Vietnam War veteran wants to raise $50,000 for wounded veterans by the time he reaches the nation’s capital.
As of Thursday July 18, while chatting at Brothers Restaurant on Rt. 64 in Lanark, Lewis said he was more than halfway on his journey, but a bit shy of the half way mark for fund-raising with $22,000 donated so far.
Regardless, his actions are a noble gesture. It has been a great physical challenge, but spiritually rewarding.
Lewis started his Walking for the Fallen-USA journey in March and plans to finish in late September after walking 3,300 miles through 14 states through rain, heat, wind, sleet, and snow.
(L to R) Marie and Ron Zheurski, part-time residents at Lake Carroll from Franklin Park, IL, bought lunch for Lewis during his break at Brothers Restaurant in Lanark Thursday. They thanked him for his military service, and for his effort to help returning Veterans.
“I had intended to start on April 1,” Lewis said. “But being April Fool’s Day, no one took me seriously! So we moved it up to March 31 - Easter Sunday.”
As fate would have it, he was blessed to have started on Easter. After 10 days, he had made it up the mountains, 4700 feet up, and was near a ski resort, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, enjoying a warm Spring day.
“But the next day, after I had made it through the pass, a major snow storm hit the ski resort, and the pass was closed. I wouldn’t have made it through if I had waited that one day to start.”
Lewis said he has met some remarkable people along the way.
“I have experienced many kind gestures - people giving me cold water, inviting me to spend the night - every day is different. Like a ‘Forrest Gump’ analogy, when his mother told him, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”
Lewis was in Hanover Tuesday, where his daughter and son-in-law, Bree and Jeff Fennell, all the way from Hawaii, caught up with him at River Ridge High School. They spent 2 nights at Mississippi Palisades State Park before heading back to Hanover.
“Bree walked with me from the school to Hanover, then Jeff walked with me to the Palisades. It was nice to have some company!”
On Wednesday, he had made it to Mount Carroll, where Larry and Laura DeSpain put him up in a room at their Hotel Glenview. Lewis enjoyed the conversation with Larry, a Veteran himself.
Through the blisters, shin splints, heat, and wear and tear on his body and shoes, he has had to cut back to about 15 miles a day from his beginning pace of 20 to 25 miles.
Lewis started planning the adventure after Veterans returned to his hometown of Ronan, Montana. One came home with his legs blown off. Another committed suicide shortly after his return.
“Those things affected me,” said Lewis. “I don’t have the skill mix to help today’s returning wounded soldiers. But I can help raise money for the many wonderful programs that help them.”
Lewis said Walking for the Fallen~USA’s mission is twofold. “To remind folks, across our Country, of the ‘Cost of Freedom,’ by connecting with school age children, adults, Civic, Veteran and Religious organizations, during this 6 month, Love-of-Country effort.
“Also, raising money for programs that make the difference toward the healing of physical and mental wounds sustained through combat; programs, that provide the Combat Veterans and their families, tools and training that will assist in a successful transition back into their community as productive and independent survivors.”
Lewis meets with Veteran groups along the way, and asks for recommendations from each state on charitable programs that help veterans.
“Money I collect in Illinois will come back to Illinois,” Lewis said.
He prefers groups such as the American Legion that don’t skim any funds for administrative costs. “Companion Dog” programs are another.
“They train, then donate dogs to returning Veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), some of which can also detect seizures that some soldiers have as a result,” Lewis said.
His home-away-from-home is his cart, which holds everything he needs. Sun block, bug spray and water are within reach, but the jogging stroller also holds a sleeping bag and a tent, in case Lewis can’t find a farmer or rancher to put him up for the night.
Solar panels power his cellphone, and a GPS tracker sends signals to his website every 10 minutes to update followers on his progress (follow him at www.walkingforthefallen.com/track).
Flags of all sizes adorn the cart. They honor military branches and the soldiers who are MIA and POW’s. He also picked up some flags from American Indian tribes as he passed through their reservations. The American flag and a Christian flag wave over the rest.
“It continues to be an Honor to serve our Country.” He also adds that he hopes that you will find it in your heart to support this effort. Your assistance will literally go a long way,“One Step at a Time. Semper Fi.” Please visit www.walkingforthefallen.com for more information.