PIQUA — A Massachusetts man walking across the U.S. to advocate for veterans is passing through Piqua this week.
“I started on May 15,” said William Shuttleworth, who began his coast-to-coast walking tour from his hometown of Newburyport, Mass. Shuttleworth, 71, is a retired educator who served in the U.S. Air Force for six years. He had a 35-year professional career as an educator and has also worked as a psychologist and a college professor.
Shuttleworth’s journey is to advocate on behalf of veterans, raising awareness about medical care needs, including mental health assistance, for veterans.
“Fifty of us kill ourselves every day,” Shuttleworth said, pointing out the need for mental health resources for veterans.
Shuttleworth is also encouraging veterans to run for political office. He said that in 1970, when he joined the U.S. Air Force, approximately 75 percent of Congress had served in the military, adding that it is less than 8 percent today.
“They see life through the needs of a veteran,” Shuttleworth said.
In addition to his advocacy, he’s raising funds for disabled veterans on his website vetsdontforgetvets.com, which is also where people can go to follow Shuttleworth’s journey across the U.S.
Shuttleworth is approximately 900 miles into his cross-country journey with 2,300 miles more to go. He is currently walking approximately 32 miles a day, and he expects his trip to last seven months. He walks about four miles an hour while carrying a 24-pound backpack.
“I am meeting hundreds of people,” Shuttleworth said.
Shuttleworth is passing through Piqua after walking from Columbus to Urbana, and on his way to Urbana, he was stopped 12 times, including by families who wanted a photo with him and also by an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper who gave him some protein bars.
“I didn’t realize this trip would be so healing for so many people,” Shuttleworth said.
He has also spoken with and shared stories with other veterans, including a Vietnam veteran in northern Ohio who shared stories with Shuttleworth that the Vietnam veteran had never even shared with his wife. He also spoke with a veteran paralyzed from the waist down who was operating an auto garage who told Shuttleworth, “I feel like you’re walking for me.”
“I have these conversations all the time,” Shuttleworth said.
He added that he has the best experiences talking to people in diners, calling diner customers “creative problem solvers.”
He said he’s getting by on his thanks to “the kindness of strangers,” noting that the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce found out he was passing through and put him up in an inn so he would not have to sleep in his tent that night.
He said that he looks back on his own service “with incredible pride.”
“It was my honor,” Shuttleworth said.
He added that he was honored to be able to do this trip for veterans, and he hopes that he gets the attention of Congress so that veterans are not forgotten.
“One ordinary man can make a difference, they should try to do the same,” Shuttleworth said.