WASHINGTON - Marine veteran Sgt. Chuck Lewis wipes sweat out of his eyes as he walks down the Mt. Vernon trail. This is no ordinary walk in the nation’s capitol. Lewis isn’t just another sightseer at the National Mall. He’s completing the final 10 miles of a 3,300-mile journey he started half-a-year ago.
Lewis finished his walk across the continental United States at the Vietnam memorial in Washington, Sept. 25.
Lewis was inspired to walk across America to raise awareness and money for fallen service members after presenting a flag to the widow of a Marine. The Marine committed suicide within the same month he separated from the Corps.
“When he told me he wanted to do this walk, I could already see it in my head — selling our house, quitting my job — but he said he had to do it alone,” Linda Sappington, Lewis’ wife, said.
Lewis started his walk in Everett, Wash. in late March of this year. His route took him from Washington to Minnesota, from Minnesota to North Carolina and from North Carolina to D. C. Six months and 3,000 miles later, he finished his walk at the Vietnam Memorial.
“There was snow, there was sleet, there was hail and then, of course, when we moved across the plains, there was rain and wind,” Lewis said. “Coming into the south there was heat and humidity. We covered all the elements out there.”
In between his struggles with nature, Lewis fought through countless blisters and nagging shin splints. Lewis expected pain; he started his journey without training.
Lewis didn’t let the blisters and weather slow him down. Motivation was easy to come by thanks to the support he received from people along his journey.
“What he is doing is truly admirable and I can't wait to see him complete his journey and truly help to bring attention to those who are sometimes forgotten,” Jaclyn Dugan-Roof, a supporter who posted on Lewis’ website, said. “He is truly an inspiration and I am so proud that my family was able to meet him and I look forward to keeping track of what he is doing in the future.”
More than 3,000 miles later, Lewis remembers one person who made his trip worthwhile.
“One of the highlights of my whole trip was when I was in Indiana,” Lewis said. “A man pulled over and said, ‘Sir, I saw an article on you and you are a true American.’ That was the pinnacle of the trip for me.”
Lewis has a special connection to his mission and the Marine Corps after severing as an aircraft mechanic from 1970-1974. He then served in the Naval Reserve as a fire systems controller and served from 1980-1988.
“I served in Vietnam,” Lewis said. “I had friends who died there but I came home. I was a lucky one. I had 40 years they didn’t get, so six months is kind of a drop in the bucket for what they didn’t get.”
Lewis believes the connection that he still shares with the Marine Corps, transcends branches of service.
“In the Marine Corps, we like to think ‘once a Marine always a Marine,’ but I like to think, once a sailor always a sailor, once an airman always an airman, once a soldier always a soldier, and once a coasty always a coasty,” Lewis said.
Lewis also raised $33,000 for wounded and disables veterans during his journey.
After more than 3,000 miles under his belt and $33,000 raised for the veterans, Lewis is finally home with his wife again. He said he knows even if the time and money helps one person he was successful.
“My ultimate hope is to save a life,” Lewis said. “One life is worth a six-month walk — that would be a gift in itself.”