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Ronan man walks in support of fellow vets

Havre Daily News/Lindsay Brown

Chuck Lewis walks down U.S. Highway 2 Friday afternoon. Lewis is walking from the west coast to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. as a fundraiser for Walking for the Fallen.

Chuck Lewis says he has learned a lot during the first phase of his nationwide walk to raise funds and awareness for wounded and fallen veterans.

He's learned there are a lot of good people out there who share his concerns about veterans, and there are a lot of young people eager to learn about what veterans have done for them.

And, he said, he's learned to appreciate the plains of northern Montana after walking through the hills of Oregon.

Lewis a Ronan resident, started on the Washington coast and will head toward the Atlantic Ocean. He was in Havre Saturday, staying overnight in the "above first-class" Best Western Great Northern Inn, after having spent nights at roadsides along the highway many nights previously.

He expects to be in Chinook today and pass by Harlem Tuesday.

He hopes to raise $50,000 for the cause, and has already earned $10,000 and tons of stories of the folks he's talked to along the way.

He's been greeted by veterans' groups and common folk along the way.

While he was in Hingham, he was offered a place to stay for the night and Mike Spencer held a barbecue at his tavern that raised $500 for the cause.

"I think everyone in Hingham was there," he said.

An old friend and Havre native, Sterling Holland, now living in Swan Lake, joined him for the walk from Gildford to Fresno.

While he's raising money by walking, that's not how he got into the fundraising for veterans.

One Christmas several years ago, he realized none of his family could make it home for the holidays.

So Christmas morning, he went downtown, and stood on the corner with a sign asking people to remember those who were unable to spend the holidays with their families.

"I didn't bother people, I didn't ask for money," he said "But contributions poured in."

So he kept it up. People would contribute when they saw someone as dedicated as that.

Then he decided that if he could raise that much standing still, why couldn't he see how much he could raise by moving.

The people he meets along the way have buoyed his spirits, he said. Many want to help veterans, he said, but they don't know where to start.

His partners in the walk have been especially helpful, he said.

In Kalispell, he met up with Cpl. Tony Parker, who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan.

"We must have gone three or four miles together," he said.

Yet, he warned, there are lots of other veterans who have not healed their bodies or their spirits so well.

Cpl. Greg Avila of St. Ignatius returned home from a tour in Afghanistan without fanfare.

A few days after coming home, he took his own life.

"Most people didn't even realize he was home until it was time to attend his funeral," he said.

"Maybe we take care of people when they are in the service, but it seems to me that we drop the ball when they get out of the service."

Lewis, who served in the Marines from 1970 to '74, said there is a generation gap between his era and the people who served in Afghanistan.

They have to deal with technology and stress far beyond what his generation had to, he said.

"They say you don't know what my war was like," he said. "You can't understand."

"Maybe that's true," he said. "But I can walk."

 

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