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Warrior walks for the fallen

MISSION VALLEY — The American military is unlike many other militaries in the world. It is 100-percent volunteer. This means that those who serve make the honorable, selfless and noble choice to put themselves between the bullets and the rest of us — and they do it of their own free will. 

Even if you don’t support the war, “I support the troops” seems to be the popular thing to say. If you stop someone on the street and ask, “Do you support the troops?” you will most likely get a surprised look and some variation of the phrase, “Of course, don’t you?” If you ask the followup question, “How?” most have no answer. 

Chuck Lewis does. 

A Veteran and member of several VFW posts and honor guard organizations throughout the Mission Valley, Lewis has planned an epic cross-country journey to raise money for wounded and disabled veterans. In about two months, he will leave Ronan to walk more than 3,300 miles across the United States. 

Last summer, the 61-year-old Lewis was hit with a severe case of vertigo and couldn’t walk in a straight line or stand upright. While he said he feels much better now, Lewis hasn’t fully recovered. 

“Google says it’s 3,300 miles, but I’m wondering if it might be closer to 3,400 because I still don’t walk straight,” he said with a laugh.

His journey will begin in Seattle, Wash., and end at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It will take Lewis roughly six months to complete the journey while he travels through Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. 

The trek’s cause is twofold: Lewis hopes to remind people across the country of the cost of freedom by offering presentations and workshops at speaking engagements and interviews during the walk, and raise $50,000 for wounded and disabled veterans programs. 

“Some people are leaders; I’m not,” Lewis said. “I’m not one to ‘rally the troops,’ so to speak, but what I always hoped I could do was lead by example. If people liked what I did, then they would follow me ... if it was in their hearts to help and donate, they would. If it wasn’t, then they wouldn’t.”

He added that the idea for the trip wasn’t just about raising money, it was also about the support he will get along the way. 

Lewis made a website, www.WalkingForTheFallen.com, where people can track his progress along the route, donate money, offer support and supplies or simply wish him well on his journey. He’s already gotten several offers from friends and total strangers alike from across the nation for food, a shower and place to stay for a night. 

He will be 62 years old when he sets off at the end of March. To train for the massive undertaking, Lewis walks several miles a day with all his supplies, but he says he’s no stranger to high-intensity training. 

In his late 40s and early 50s, Lewis competed in 100-mile ultra-marathons. 

“If you’ve ever done any sort of running, you know there’s two basic methods: you can train short and fast or long and slow,” Lewis said. 

In his youth, he had a “fair amount of speed” and used that mentality to train short and fast, running long distances in short timeframes. This carried through to his ultra-marathon training. 

On a given weekend while training for a 100-mile race, Lewis could be found running 30 miles on Saturday and around 20 the following Sunday morning. When people ask him, “How do you train for a 3,300 mile walk?” Lewis responds, “I look at it as 3,300 one-mile segments. I plan to walk about 25 miles per day, but I picked the course and it’s all downhill,” Lewis said with a laugh. 

Veteran Homer Courville said Lewis has been active with not only the American Legion, but the Mission Valley Honor Guard as well. 

“It’s huge,” Courville said of Lewis’ commitment to walk across the nation for his fellow servicemen. “It’s a big commitment and it takes lots of dedication. I mean, Chuck is and has been a very dedicated man and helping with veterans in need and warriors.”

Fellow veteran, honor guard and VFW member Bob Bell said he knows exactly how Lewis feels. In 2007, Bell, along with five other veterans, traveled to the four corners of America on four motorcycles and a trailing car to support the troops. 

“It’s going to be an emotion he’ll never forget,” Bell said. “I was gone exactly 30 days and traveled 12,838 miles ... It’s still emotional for me. When we’d get to certain downs there would be groups of veterans waiting for you. Every day it was something like that; there was someone waiting for you to shake your hand and say ‘thank you.’

He’s going to have an emotion he’s never lived before and he’ll never forget it. It still makes you cry — what we saw, what we did, and how the people reacted to us. He’ll never forget it.”

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