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March 13, 2014

Vietnam veteran on coast-to-coast journey

THOMASVILLE — One step at a time is the mindset of a 75- year-old Vietnam veteran who is walking across America.

Ray Agnew, 75, an Indianapolis native, started his coast-to-coast journey on March 1 in Jacksonville, Fla., at 11:30 a.m. His goal is to reach Seattle, Wash. by June or July while raising funds for disabled American veterans.

At the age of 22, Agnew joined the U.S. Army. His basic training was at Fort Gordon. After he completed training, the young soldier was sent to Vietnam.

Within a matter of days, Agnew and his fellow soldiers went to Saigon and stayed there for 30 days.

He said, “We didn’t know what to expect. No one did.”

Agnew remembered taking a hike up the coast into the mountains of Vietnam.

“Going up the mountains was a trip, much like these hills I’m trying to go up and down now. I remember the mountain people would run. These were people who had never seen an automobile before,” said Agnew.

For nine months, Agnew, not a Fort Myers Beach, Fla., resident, carried his weapons wherever he went.

Fifty-three years later, Agnew is on on self-fulfilling journey. It was four years ago that Agnew began preparing his body and mind for the challenge.

“I was walking everyday and a buddy of mine got to thinking he and I should walk across the country. I thought it was good idea. He told me he would go with me when he retired. He’s five years away from retirement. I told him I couldn’t wait that long. I’d be 80 by then,” said Agnew.

The veteran began training by walking long distances everyday. It was not enough to prepare him for what was ahead, however.

Agnew said, “Going up and down these hills is difficult. We don’t have hills like this where I am from.”

When he started, he pushed his supplies  in a stroller. He switched to a backpack after realizing the stroller was too heavy to push.

“I haven’t carried a backpack since I was in the army,” Agnew joked.

Another challenge he discovered is the issue of finding somewhere to sleep at night. He tries to find motels as much as he can, but sometimes that’s not possible.

His main concern is his feet. He stopped in Thomasville for the night on Thursday to take care of his feet that were beginning to ache because of a blister.

“Thomasville is a great little town. A great place to slow down and rest,” said Agnew.

Along Agnew’s way, he has found people to be very supportive.

“All the VA clubs and American Legions are very supportive of what I’m doing. I have a son who is also supportive. He likes to keep track of where I’m going,” said Agnew.

Agnew’s friends and family are able to keep track of him through an app called Life 360.

Today, he will leave Thomasville and head toward Cairo to travel across Hwy 84 to continue on his way to Washington state.

Agnew travels with an atlas, but he has no set course.

He said, “I go from city to city with no set route and no set time to get there, either. I’m just enjoying walking from coast to coast.”

Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.



 

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