One step at a time from San Diego to the Georgia coast two veterans have joined forces for the last five months to remind passersby that the rights Americans have enjoyed so freely for years did not come at a small price – and Americans should fight just as hard to keep them.
Jerry C. Oliver and Mark T. Lanham believe in the United States Constitution – so much so that they both risked their lives defending it – Lanham in Desert Storm and Oliver in Vietnam.
So when the two began to feel that the government was no longer respecting the core rights of the people set forth in one of America’s founding documents they decided to grab attention in the only way that they felt they could that would stand out from the crowd.
They began to walk – not a few steps or even across a state but across the entire country.
“We decided to make this walk because all these of all these buracrats in Washington who are stripping our freedoms away,” Lanham said. “It’s still we the people – not we the government.”
The two saved up their money for three years to make the trip, he said.
“We see people doing, which is perfectly good, you know, making the comments on the blogs and on Facebook,” he said. “But they’re talkin’ – we’re walkin’.”
Little by little, Oliver and Lanham travel switching back and forth – one driving while the other walks never lowering the flag that encompasses the very message they hope to get across.
And for the most part, the bellowing horns of semi-truck drivers, shouts of encouragement from motorists and the occasional water bottle or even cash donation seem to show that people support their cause even if they don’t stop to ask for the details.
But the few they do, get an opportunity to share in the memories that these men have made while crossing the country.
And to some extent, sticking in people’s memories is a big part of why they chose to walk in the first place.
“When you see a silver-haired veteran walking down the highway with a flag, they’re not going to remember my name, but they’ll remember that for the rest of their lives,” Oliver said. “That’s what we’re doing – we’re touching people – and that makes us feel good.”
The public has sometimes made just as much an impact on them.
“I will always remember the one – I was walking back near Phoenix, I think the town was Surprise and I saw this this [Veterans Administration Office] and I said I’m going to walk through this little lot,” he said. “And this woman, she had tears in her eyes and she came out and gave me a hug and a kiss – I never got her name.”
Lanham said she told him that seeing him come through proudly presenting the flag took her breath away.
Oliver had his own memories.
“A lady pulled over yesterday on the east side of Waycross and we were talking and she said she was visiting her father and she was going to tell him that she saw us walking,” he said. “I thought that was really nice of her and she said he was World War II veteran.”
After a short pause, she told him she was visiting him at the cemetery, Oliver said.
Crossing the United States, Oliver said they had received a warm welcome when they got to Texas but said that they weren’t merely playing to the crowd when they said that Georgia has by far been the most supportive with honks, donations and rest-stops being openly offered to them along the way. The two even received a hero’s welcome in Dawson, Ga. with people lining up to help, feed and support them in general.
The reception the two have gotten from Georgians turns out to be fitting for Oliver who, in addition to having a son serving a repeat tour of duty in the military, found out only recently that he had two ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War in Georgia – one of whom died in the conflict.
“If they can give up their lives for us like then, then the least we can do is walk,” he said.
His wasn’t the first ancestor to die in war to protect America’s freedoms and he is far from the last. So recent regulation of guaranteed constitutional freedoms – such as the right to bear arms and even the right to due process – defeat in legislation what military men and women have fought to protect for many generations.
That’s what the two hope people see when they look at their flags or see the red, white and blue emblazoned on their van.
The two also hope that the flags serve as a reminder to those who see them of the country’s millions of unsung heros.
And by Veterans Day, the two hope to be sitting across from the president of the United States to discuss each of these issues in person.
Oliver admitted that they had heard nothing back yet, but when the march across the country ends near Sept. 11, the two will begin a new journey to Washington D.C.
By the time they get there, they hope they get a response.
But if not, they’ll continue the bottom up approach – one by one and step by step winning the hearts and minds of the people of America as they walk to remind and walk to remember the principles on which their country was founded.