After a five-second salute to the American flag he tows behind him, Mac McQuown walked across the 13th Street bridge from South Carolina into Augusta at noon Saturday, wearing borrowed boots and dog tags.
The crossing marked the eighth state in eight months that McQuown, a 51-year-old Marine veteran, has walked into on his journey to bring attention to veterans’ issues.
McQuown’s mission, which he estimates will take six years, is to walk to the capitol steps of every state to urge people to remember and support wounded, fallen and homeless veterans.
The task is tough, but for McQuown, it’s the only way to spread his message.
“I knew if I stayed in one spot and voiced my opinion, I might touch a couple thousand lives, but if I walked to every capitol, I get the attention of millions of people,” McQuown said. “This is my kind and polite way of getting in people’s faces and saying, ‘You can’t forget.’ ”
He said on days of extreme weather such as Saturday, two things keep him walking when the journey beats up his body.
“No. 1, in my Marine Corps career we trained in heat, jungles, cold, wet and floods. We’re trained for this, we can learn to adapt to this,” he said. “And today and in Vietnam and Korea and every other conflict, they’ve fought in worse weather than this. If they can fight and die in this, I can walk in this.”
His second source of inspiration is Army Staff Sgt. Travis Mills, who lost his arms and legs to an explosion in Afghanistan in April. Mills is the fourth quadruple amputee from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries, and McQuown said Mills is upbeat and energetic about his life every day.
“If he can keep going, what have I got to complain about?” McQuown said.
McQuown was welcomed to Georgia by a small group of veterans and members of the Young Marines who met him on the bridge and marched with him across the state line, where the group rested in the shade.
McQuown started his journey eight months ago on the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. He said since that day, he has wanted to find a way to serve again. Unable to re-enlist, he was moved to bring recognition to veterans through this 15,000-mile odyssey.
When he crossed into Georgia on Saturday, 1,123 of those miles were behind him.
His route, which stopped first at Ground Zero in New York City, now will take him south to Tallahassee, Fla., then to Atlanta. After walking to Montgomery, Ala., McQuown will head west to California, after which he’ll head to Hawaii and Alaska. When he returns, he plans to take a serpentine path from west to east, visiting each state capitol along the way to his finish line, Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
There, he plans to return the dog tags and boots he’s been wearing to Emily Toro. They belonged to her son, Pvt. Isaac T. Cortes, who was killed in Iraq in November 2007.
“I walk in his boots because he paid the ultimate price,” McQuown said.