EVERETT — He walked close to 3,500 miles, raised more than $35,000 for military veterans and lost about 35 pounds in the deal.
Retired Marine Corps Sgt. Chuck Lewis, 62, started his journey across the country March 31 in Everett. The goal was to bring attention to wounded warriors. He finished Sept. 25 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — The Wall — in Washington, D.C.
Lewis returned home to Ronan, Mont., and slept in his own bed a few nights later. It was good, he said.
On the trip he experienced heavy rain, soggy snow, blistering heat and high humidity as he pushed a flag-decorated three-wheeled baby stroller laden with gear over mountains and across prairies to Chicago, south through the heartland to North Carolina and north to the nation’s capitol.
Lewis said he wouldn’t change a thing about his campaign to raise money and awareness for veterans programs, a campaign he called “Walking for the Fallen.”
He met hundreds of people along the way. One Snohomish County couple, who had read about Lewis in The Herald, drove all the way to Wenatchee just to walk a mile with him.
“They are both veterans with a son in the Marine Corps,” Lewis said. “They gave me an honor guard pin to place at The Wall.”
Throughout the six-month journey, when he told people he started out in Everett, many of them knew the city.
“You would be amazed how many people have friends or family in the Everett area,” he said.
Lewis plans to donate the $35,000 he raised to veterans groups across the country, primarily through the American Legion. In Dubuque, Iowa, for example, the money will go to the Veterans’ Freedom Center where veterans get support and have access to classes that teach new job skills, Lewis said.
Lewis is concerned about the treatment of veterans in America, and that’s why he walked, he said.
“In the military, these guys have a purpose and people who have their backs. When they get home, everybody is busy, so they have nobody to talk to. The economy is poor and they can’t find jobs,” Lewis said at the start of his journey. “I probably can’t help too many of these guys personally, but I can raise awareness and money for the programs that can.”
Lewis said a highlight of the trip came in Wisconsin, when a man pulled up in a car and told Lewis, “I want you to know you are a true American.”
That pleased Lewis.
“I think the guy got it,” he said. “I am half Hispanic and I have no trouble expressing cultural diversity to pigeonhole myself. But I am no fan of hyphenation. It detracts from our unity and divides our country.”
The other highlight, of course, was reaching The Wall.
“I had never been there before,” Lewis said. “And I got there the cheapest way possible. I walked.”
His wife, Linda, met him so they could walk together across the Potomac River and down the National Mall.
“I was choked up as we approached the monuments and I really couldn’t talk to people,” Lewis said. “I went through mood swings over the course of the 178 days that I walked. Some days I wondered if I was too old or I wondered what I had got myself into.”
At The Wall, Lewis cried. He used paper and pencil to trace the name of a high school buddy who died in Vietnam.
“I got to do a lot of things during these past 40 years since that war that my friends and friends of friends never got to do,” Lewis said. “The trip was worth it. I would do it again, in their honor.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.