Ready to go to the sandbox….
When my alarm buzzed at 3:30 a.m., I was surprised at how quickly this ol’ fortysomething got moving.Despite the early hour and challenges ahead, I was
excited to join America’s finest for a small part of an epic walk from the NC/SC border up to WashingtonD.C. After a quick shower and an accelerated morning
routine, I departed at 4:02 for the 160 mile or sodrive to Emporia. There I met up with Bob Miller, afriend and Marine Corps Vietnam veteran. We grabbed
some coffee and Mountain Dew and intended to welcome the walkers to Virginia by escorting them across the state line.
Who were these walkers? Three retired veterans who had recently been voluntarily recalled and served over in Iraq. They determined to do something significant and difficult to show America that many of us want our troops to come home as winners, having accomplished a very challenging mission. That’s how Resolve to Win was born. They also hope to build excitement and
momentum along the way, resulting in a large following in northern Virginia next weekend. Route and schedule here:
Bob and I staged his vehicle at the VA/NC state line, then drove south on Hwy 301 and soon (by purecoincidence) found ourselves behind the Resolve to Win
recreational vehicle. We knew from photos this was the walkers’ main support vehicle, so we followed behind it all the way to this morning’s starting point
in Halifax County. There, in a light drizzle, we met up with walkers Dennis McCool, Carl Heerup and Marc Breslow, plus their support crew (Ada, Don, Carl, Pearl – my apologies if I missed anyone). We learned the unfortunate news that Marc, after walking seven consecutive days, was going to depart for much-needed medical attention on his feet. So the core group of four was down to two (Dennis and Carl). The fourth member, an Army major or lieutenant colonel and Dennis’ son Gerry McCool, walked for several days in the beginning before needing to return to work. However, he will rejoin the group for the last few days. The group wished Marc a fond farewell, a speedy recovery, and plans to see him in D.C. on March 16th.
We stepped off at 7:30 in a light rain, which over the next couple of hours faded on and off, with one stretch of 10-15 minutes of fairly heavy rain that unfortunately soaked our footwear. In addition to Dennis, Carl, Bob and I, we were joined by two active duty Army recruiters (Darrick and Trey, who were
determined to escort these amazing veterans through their area of operations) and another old Marine Corps friend, Larry Hoffa (whom we did not realize until just then would be walking with us). Each walking segment was 6-7 miles, taking about two hours. There’s a half-hour morning break, a 45-minute lunch,
a half-hour afternoon break, with each day completed about 6:00 p.m.
During the first leg Bob called in to a Richmond radio station, and the DJs interviewed Bob and Carl. Dennis normally receives a daily morning call from a Fox affiliate in Orlando FL that has been tracking their progress. However, this morning for some reason there was no call. People took turns carrying the American flag and the guidon (a long wooden stick with a metal pike on top, holding a small banner usually denoting a particular unit. This blue banner with fringe says Resolve to Win.) Since the recruiters and Larry were only planning to walk until lunch, I held off carrying the guidon until the later legs. We walked along the right edge of Hwy 301 and were blessed to have NC sheriff and police escorts all the way to the lunch break. I was disappointed that Virginia did not have anyone (police or otherwise) greeting us at the state line. But the support crew and walkers all have Nextel phones, so they managed traffic very professionally with no significant problems all day.
During the second leg we heard a disturbance behind us, and saw an elderly veteran with an American flag double timing (running) to catch up to us. We slowed down, and he walked with Dennis McCool up to a bridge (where his wife picked him up) just to show us his support. Very motivating! And during this leg another gentleman pulled his southbound vehicle over, jumped out, snapped a couple of photos and thanked us for walking.
The rain cleared up after the first leg, and by lunchtime the sun was coming out. A reporter from Littleton NC took pictures and interviewed some of the folks. We ate and then bid a fond farewell to our Army recruiter friends, Darrick and Trey, as they had to prepare for an ROTC ball that evening. Both were fun to have around, sharing knowledge of the local area, trail mix and Hershey’s kisses! And Darrick kindly gave me a pair of hiking socks. I had neglected to bring a back-up pair, and the wet shoes & socks resulted in a couple of blisters on my right foot by lunch. So those socks did considerably cut down on my discomfort. Larry was feeling pretty good, so he wanted to walk the third leg with us. His wife Lori, following in a support vehicle, good naturedly agreed to go to work a little later so Larry could have some more fun with us (in a masochistic sort of way).
As Carl, Dennis, Bob, Larry and I set off on Leg 3 after a lunch of sandwiches, pickles and potato chips (and lots of fluids!), a white SUV pulled over in front of us. It was a NC family of four who had heard about us on the radio and wanted to say “Hello” and cheer us on. They chatted briefly with Bob, then drove ahead of us. They pulled out a large unit flag for the 173rd Airborne, in which they have two sons (Sean and Chase, I believe) currently serving in Iraq. 9-year old Gavin was waving the flag, which was twice as big as him, in a strong wind, while 3-year old Raven was on the SUV’s hood waving to us as we walked
by. At Dennis’ urging I ran back to a trail vehicle and retrieved some small American flags for the kids, Mom and Dad. Bob and I went over to chat and snapped some photos. They wanted to purchase some Resolve to Win t-shirts and hats, which were in the RV. They decided to meet us at the state line (our third break area) to buy those, and then handed me a nice donation for RTW. Raven had a picture of soldier brother Sean on her t-shirt. If you can’t tell, those cute kids were the highlight of my day. Bob and I then ran to catch up to the core group, and the running actually felt good to use some different
muscles for a while. True to their word, they were waiting for us at the state line. They bought a load of shirts and hats and spoke for a while with Dennis.
He cut short his rest and foot maintenance just to speak with them. During the third break I needed to lance a couple of huge blisters on my right foot, and
Dennis gave me some moleskin which helped considerably.
After the break we all – walkers and support crew -posed for photos at the “Welcome to Virginia” sign. We said goodbye to Lori and Larry Hoffa, who were
gracious enough to run Bob back to retrieve my vehicle at the starting point. That enabled me to walk the final leg with Dennis and Carl, who otherwise would have been alone. Most of our route paralleled railroad tracks, and the trains were all honking, so we surmised they were talking about our march on the radio. I started carrying the guidon early in Leg 3, and never gave it up after that. Leg 4 was extremely windy, and the fairly comfortable temperatures from the morning had dropped a good 15-20 degrees. My hands were cold, but not enough to retrieve my gloves from the trail vehicle. We heard via radio there were gale warnings in the area. We weren’t surprised!
Early in Leg 4 we heard a snap, looked ahead about 40-50 yards as the crown of an old tree plummeted into the roadway. Fortunately it was on the other side of the highway and no cars were coming. I quickly cleared the debris and we continued. We saw homes with shingles missing and at least two sheds with the roofs peeled back like tin can tops. Needless to say, managing the guidon and American flag in those conditions was challenging. Twice (during Legs 2 and 4) the American flag separated from the pole and was retired to the support vehicles.
As we approached the day’s final destination (a church parking lot 25-26 miles from the morning’s starting point), I could see Concrete Bob waiting with his
vehicle. He’s never looked so beautiful (he was my ride back to MY vehicle!). Dennis and Carl decided to skip going out for dinner and instead focus on warm
baths and caring for their feet. So we posed for more pictures, including one for a nice veterans group in Missouri that sent a check for Resolve To Win. It’s
nice to see the donations, because Dennis, Carl and the others have put a lot of their own money into this effort of love, with some wonderful support from
American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. We then said our goodbyes and everyone departed. Don, one of the support crew, said Day 8 was the most challenging with the rain and wind, so I was especially glad to have joined these fine folks on this day and hopefully provided some good company and encouragement.
As Bob drove me back to retrieve my vehicle, the first song coming from the radio was Alan Jackson’s “Where We You (When the World Stop Turning,” a moving reminder of the horrible slaughter of 9/11/01 and its impact on our lives. A very fitting ending to an amazing day dedicated to our troops.
I am sore, with a few blisters, but have no regrets. However, it’s absolutely incredible to me that two gentlemen (one ten years and the other 19 years my
senior) have done this eight consecutive days, with another eight still to come. These guys are first-class studs! What keeps them going is not only the knowledge they’re walking for everyone in uniform defending our freedom, but also the support of everyone who walks with them or simply stands along
the route to clap, cheer on and thank them. I urge everyone reading this to:
• tell a friend and local/national media organizations about this epic journey
• visit the below website to post a short note of encouragement and/or buy a t-shirt or hat
• consider meeting them somewhere between Emporia and D.C. through March 16th.
Maybe YOU could be one of the thousands they hope to have escorting them over the Memorial Bridge from Arlington National Cemetery to the Lincoln Memorial on March 16th. God willing, I’ll be there.
Rock on, Eric! We need more like ya!