Monday, August 4, 2014

Stephens Raises Money for the Wounded Warrior Project

By Mary Baskerville

ELWOOD—Ron Stephens recently walked from Manhattan, Illinois to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery as part of his 350 mile walk to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project.  Stephens, a 66-year old Vietnam Army Veteran, has walked about 20 intermittent days since Memorial Day.

Ron Stephens and his wife, Lisa, at the point along Hoff Road where the Elwood’s escort met the Manhattan escort. 

Manhattan and Elwood’s emergency services, police, and fire escorts were exceptional, he said. “These guys have been so helpful.” When he expressed his thanks, he said that they simply responded, “It’s our flag too.

“God Bless them. The simple faith that people have. It’s symbolic: It’s our country; it’s our flag. And what more worthy cause than to take care of our wounded soldiers?”

As he walked along Hoff Road, he learned the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery had been carved out of the old Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. “It’s beautiful, beautiful country.”

He is the son of a sailor who served in World War II, “and my mother was a riveter for McDonnell Aircraft.” He still has her small certification card showing her hours of training. His father wanted to join the war effort. When he was 32, he tried to volunteer, but was told that as the father of three young children he should stay home. When he was 33, he was told “Earl, we won’t take you.” But, when he was 34, he was told, “Earl, we need you.”

He saw “fighting in the Pacific, and my mother, in the meantime, was a riveter.”   

Stephens most often walks alone.  “I’m usually out here by myself, and understand, first of all, the beauty and honor of living in the America, and I have thoughts from my past.
I walk with memories.”

He recalls those he served with, and those that died. The corporal in his unit was killed in the same battle that he was in. “My radio man . . . was killed by the same bullet that hit me.”

“So, I think about those guys. It can be a very emotional and somber occasion walking out here.”

He was combat wounded in 1970 and spent 18-months in military hospitals recovering from the shots, first at Scott Air Force Base in St. Claire County and later at the Brooke Army Hospital. 

His son, a West Point graduate, was wounded in Iraq where he served for 40 months. His son-in-law served 12 months in Afghanistan.

The number of veterans needing help is why he walks, he said. “The young men and women—and there are a lot---serving their country proudly and quietly."

0n Memorial Day, Stephens began his walks, pledging to walk one mile for every $100 dollars raised by 16 Doc’s Pharmacy stores and Dale’s Southlake Pharmacy in Decatur, where Stephens works on weekends. Cardinal Health Foundation, a pharmaceutical distributor, is matching every dollar.

At the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood he logged in with 293 miles.  With $35,000 raised, Stephens will walk the remaining 57 miles of his 350 mile commitment near his home in Greenville.