Wearing his uniform and a backpack, former Army Reservist and Marine McQuown, now 52 and a resident of Florida, passed through Heflin Wednesday on his way to the steps of the Alabama Capitol in Montgomery. It will be the eighth state capitol and the ninth capitol building on his itinerary. He also walked to the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C.
“When 9/11 happened, one thing I noticed was when our veterans came home from combat, they were soon forgotten about,” McQuown said. “That seems to happen with every conflict: Vietnam, Korea to today’s current conflict.”
He wanted to do something to bring awareness to veterans and veterans’ issues, he said. Every state has veterans, so a trip to the capitol of every state became his mission, said McQuown. As he walks in his uniform and with his flag, McQuown is a reminder of the men and women who have fought for this country, he said.
McQuown is also part of a nonprofit organization — Project Foot — that raises money on the website www.operationwalkamerica.org for wounded and homeless veterans through its Operation Walk America store and through donations, he said.
As he walked down U.S. 78, McQuown was greeted with honks and waves as cars drove past. It’s been an amazing journey so far, McQuown said, as he waved back.
“There’s a term used by extreme hikers called trail magic,” McQuown said. “The trail magic that I have experienced on this walk has been immeasurable.”
People have heard about him and brought him food and water or come out to hug him or shake his hand, McQuown said.
He has 10 sponsors who provide him with food, boots, uniforms and he can count on family and friends in case of an emergency, McQuown said. In addition, he spends many nights with firefighters, he said. He carries a two-man tent just in case, but so far in the nearly two years he’s been walking, he hasn’t had to use it.
“There’s been a couple times when I had planned on it,” McQuown said.
But someone has always offered him a place to stay, he added.
“People have opened their hearts and their homes to me,” McQuown said.
In Heflin, McQuown was being put up in a hotel by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, said John Burks, commander of the VFW. Burks said the Fruithurst firefighters put McQuown up Tuesday.
“We’re veterans and he’s trying to help veterans,” Burks said. “We’re putting him up for the night and giving him a gift certificate for a meal.”
McQuown walks every day Monday through Friday and most Saturdays, he said. He takes Sundays off to rest each week, but if it’s been a tough week, he may take the whole weekend off, McQuown added.
He also goes home each Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said.
His family is “110 percent” behind him on his mission, McQuown said.
But it’s been a tough one. He’s on his sixth pair of boots. Each set has been dedicated to a soldier, McQuown said. His current boots are dedicated to a lance corporal U.S. Marine from Adel, Ga. When the boots are worn out, they will be shipped to his family, he said.
When he’s all finished with the walk, McQuown said he’s going to take some time off to spend with his daughter, Katie, now 24. Their first stop, Disney World, he said.
“We’re going to want to take a break for a while to kind of unwind,” McQuown said.
McQuown’s route is available on the website including his plans to boat to Hawaii and Alaska while walking the ship each day.
Staff Writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.