Marine visits Fort Benning on way to 50 state capitals
March 15, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 13, 2013) -- Many Soldiers have passed through Fort Benning on their way to completing a larger mission.
On March 4, Leonard "Mac" McQuown, a former Marine, did the same.
McQuown is in the midst of a six-year journey to walk to every state capital in an effort to raise awareness and funds for veterans.
McQuown left his home in Stafford, Va., on Sept. 11, 2011, and walked to ground zero in New York before turning south and heading for Florida.
So far, he has visited six state capitals, walked through nine states, and has traveled a total of 1,680 miles on foot.
However, McQuown said he does not feel comfortable with the attention he often receives on his walk.
"I'm just a man on a mission," McQuown said. "I never want the spotlight to be on me, but the cause that I'm walking for."
McQuown said he first came up with the idea for the walk in the days following Sept. 11.
"When 9/11 happened, it affected everybody in a certain way," McQuown said. "The way that it affected me was that it caused me to notice that when our veterans came home from combat, whether they came back in one piece or were wounded or even if they paid the ultimate price, they were soon forgotten about. That didn't sit well with me at all. That seems to happen with every conflict that we're engaged in.
"So, I wanted to do something to bring the attention back to the veterans. So, I prayed about it, and it occurred to me that every state produces a veteran. So, what better way to call attention to it than to walk to all 50 capitals?"
While McQuown is usually alone while he walks, he does have a strong support structure in the form of Silver Star Families of America, a nonprofit organization committed to helping wounded or ill veterans, and a bevy of friendships he has forged through social media.
It was because of one of those friendships that McQuown decided to make his way here.
His path to Fort Benning began when he posted a message on his Facebook page asking for donations of beef jerky.
"I found that beef jerky on the road is good for me because it's low in fat, and provides a lot of energy and is easy to eat while I'm walking," McQuown said. "So, a couple of weeks ago, I went on my Facebook page, and started Operation Beef Jerky, where people could send beef jerky for me."
Jaymie Oakley, a Columbus resident, had been following McQuown's journey on Facebook for some time, and when the call for beef jerky went out, she and her daughter Katy, a Junior ROTC cadet at Northside High School, responded.
"We saw where he needed beef jerky, and my daughter Katie decided she wanted to try to help out, and we came up with the idea that for every two bags that she bought, we were going to try to find someone to donate one bag," Oakley said.
However, she said many businesses were unwilling to help, leading her to ask the commissary for help.
"We went to several different businesses, and I don't know whether or not they thought this was a scam, but even after I showed them the website and the Facebook page, they still didn't want to help us out," Oakley said.
Store director Arrie Carson contacted Dee Shaw, a vendor representative, and the end result was 22 bags of beef jerky being mailed to McQuown while he was on the road in Florida.
After receiving the donation, McQuown decided to make his way to Columbus to thank the Oakleys, Carson and Shaw personally.
After leaving Columbus, McQuown was headed to Warner Robins before making his way north to Atlanta, and then to Nashville, Tenn.
From Nashville, his planned route will take him south to Montgomery, Ala., where he will begin the long trek west to California.
Upon arrival in California, McQuown will have completed one third of his walk, and will make his way back to the East Coast, moving north and south as necessary to visit all state capitals in between.
His journey will end at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, and McQuown said any assistance people are willing to give along the way would be much appreciated.
"I know money's tight for everyone right now, so if everyone could just keep us in their prayers if they can't donate financially, that would be much appreciated," McQuown said. "That's been so powerful on this walk. I've had days where everything that could go wrong did go wrong and everything was falling to pieces, but somebody came out of the blue to help."
To follow McQuown's journey or for information on how to donate, visit operationwalkamerica.org or facebook.com/macmcquownwalking. McQuown can also be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.