You may have seen the story last month of William Shuttleworth, who made headlines as he set out from his home in Newburyport, Mass. wearing a 25-pound backpack, a pair of black Altra running shoes and holding two walking poles. Affixed to his backpack, he also wore a laminated weatherproof sign reading “vetsdontforgetvets.com”.
These were the beginning steps of a 3,600-mile route from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast of California, intended to call attention to American veterans and the struggles they face to get the services they need. At 72 years old, he has maintained an average of about 30 miles per day. As he walks, he is meeting and talking with people in VFW halls, coffee shops and on the side of the road. Some nights he is offered an extra bed in a new acquaintance’s home; on the other nights, he pitches his tent.
MSN honored Shuttleworth in May as our Local Hero of the Month. His story was featured during Military Appreciation Week along with a fundraiser for his requested beneficiary, the Wounded Warrior Project. MSN readers donated $2,600 to the organization, which provides numerous services helping veterans get their lives back on track and become positive forces in their communities.
For those contributions, we thank you.
Shuttleworth is hoping to join a short list of just 41 other people who have managed the coast-to-coast feat, most often in the name of a cause, bannering everything from nuclear disarmament and campaign finance reform to drug addiction, cancer research and food insecurity among older adults. Some died during their journeys. Several wrote books about them.
The stories that are most important to Shuttleworth, a retired special needs educator, are not his, but of the people he meets. On his blog he recounts many tales of both frustration and inspiration: a woman who was denied VA coverage for her husband who died of brain cancer after exposure to Agent Orange; a 92-year-old WWII vet who lied to enter the military and fight for the US at age 16; and endless gratitude for the small kindnesses he encounters daily.
We caught up with William again this week to check on his progress and found him in high spirits. “I feel healthy and I have a strong spiritual core,” he said by phone as he ducked out of the rain in Noblesville, IN. He’s doing his best to consume enough food to replace the 7,000 calories per day he estimates he’s burning. He is now on his third pair of Altra shoes.
But he’s quick to steer the conversation back to his cause. He repeated his call for anyone upset about the way veterans’ affairs are handled to contact their congressional representative to make their voice heard. “The stories people tell me every day would bring you to tears,” he said. He is journaling his encounters daily and as soon as he gets back to Massachusetts he plans to start writing a book himself. “We’re going to bring about a real change in how we treat our veterans,” he said.
You can still contribute to MSN’s fundraiser for The Wounded Warrior Project here. Or visit William’s GoFundMe page, to help keep him on the road and support The Disabled American Veterans Charitable Trust.
Follow William: vetsdontforgetvets.com