NELSON – Jerry Meadows knows a thing or two about warriors.
That’s because he is one.
Oh, the humble man hoofing his way from the cold climes of the Land of 10,000 Lakes to the Sunshine State may not consider himself a warrior, but what else would you call a 63-year-old triple bypass recipient with ten cardiac stints, an enlarged heart, and COPD who’s walking 1,300 miles to help his fellow veterans – tugging an oxygen tank in tow?
But Meadows isn’t the only warrior, there are lot more out there. Those are the people he’s walking for.
On Friday, he made his way through the Sauk Valley on his journey from Minnesota to Florida to help raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity and veterans service organization that offers programs, services and events for wounded veterans of post-9/11 military actions. He plans to wrap up his trip in Jacksonville, home of Wounded Warrior Project.
It’s a cause near and dear to his patched up – and doggedly determined – heart.
Meadows served in the Air Force from 1975-79, stationed in New Mexico guarding nukes.
He said he remembers what it was like when his fellow veterans returned home after a divisive war, when there were times the only salute they would get from civilians was with one finger, and there wasn’t a lot of support to help GI’s.
Now, he’s determined to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, and he’s doing it one step at a time. He said he chose Wounded Warrior because the organization also focuses on veterans’ spouses and caregivers.
“We don’t really reflect too much on the wife adjusting or the husband adjusting to injuries and amputees,” he said during an interview with the Quad-City Times earlier this week as his journey took him through the Quad Cities. “And we don’t think about our kids. We can say kids are resilient, but it affects them also.”
Meadows knows how hard it is for a spouse to adjust. His is a real trooper, and she’s in charge of the tanks – gas and oxygen. His wife, Virginia, joined her husband on his journey, following behind Jerry as he marches on his mission, providing support, giving him his medication, and making sure he’s OK.
“She’s literally my backbone,” Meadows told the Times. “She helps plan where we’re going to pick up new oxygen tanks, she does a lot of planning. She truly is a trooper.”
Meadows goes through about one oxygen tank a day, and he can make it about 17 miles in the same amount of time, on a good day, anyway.
Along the way, he’s met countless people, and they’ve become the fuel that power his walk. Some stop to say “hi,” grab a selfie, donate, make sure he’s OK – one even gave him some muffins.
So far, the couple has raise about $12,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, and they expect to finish the walk this fall, no doubt with more money for Meadows’ fellow veterans and their families, even though they had to essentially start over. During the first leg of Meadows’ journey, they raised just under $12,000. But Wounded Warriors changed its donation platform so, even though the organization still received the money, Meadows had to start his fundraising back at zero. The goal for the second leg of his journey is to raise $10,000.
One step at a time, day in and day out, this tireless foot soldier refuses to surrender to the aches and pains that accompany him on his trip. It’s a mission, he says, that he won’t give up on until it’s accomplished.
Want to help?
For more information on Meadows or to donate, visit bit.ly/2EdXW26 (URL is case sensitive).