Air Force veteran Jerry Meadows has had triple bypass surgery. He’s lugging an oxygen tank with him.
But that doesn’t matter, so long as he’s raising money for veterans.
Meadows, who served from 1975-1979, is walking from Minnesota to Florida to raise money for the charity, Wounded Warriors.
“I remember how our veterans came back and what we had for resources back when the Vietnam War ended,” Meadows said. “And we just got to make sure that doesn’t repeat itself.”
Meadows chose Wounded Warriors because they also focus on the spouses and caregivers of veterans, not just the veterans.
“We don’t really reflect too much on the wife adjusting or the husband adjusting to injuries and amputees,” he said. “And we don’t think about our kids. We can say kids are resilient, but it affects them also.”
Based on 2018 census data, military jobs make up three of the top 10 professions with the highest rate of divorce. Front-line military supervisors are among the highest, with a 30% divorce rate.
“This is one of the reasons why they focus a lot on the family also,” Meadows said.
Meadows’ wife, Virginia, is there every step of the way, following her husband in the couple’s van.
“She’s literally my backbone,” Meadows said. “She helps plan where we’re going to pick up new oxygen tanks, she does a lot of planning. She truly is a trooper.”
“I have to stay behind him, make sure he gets his medication,” Virginia said.
With 350 miles in, Meadows’ ultimate goal is Jacksonville, Florida, the home of Wounded Warriors. That’s 1,275 miles from his starting place in Bemidji, Minnesota.
Meadows’ route is subject to change due to weather or road construction. His plan after the Quad-Cities is to head for Highway 57. They avoid cities and construction sites as a safety precaution, and sleep in the van.
Meadows said Iowans are the coolest people he’s met on the way.
“It’s like clockwork: every 10 minutes, people pull over just to see if we’re OK,” he said. “Some of them do donate, we get a lot of honks. People want selfies to take along with them, it’s really been a good experience for the most part.”
The hardest part of the walking is staying focused on the horizon, Meadows says. “Not counting mile markers, not looking down at your feet. It sets in, the blisters on your feet start hurting and it seems like you’re not getting anywhere,” he said. “When actually you are, but it’s such a slow pace. It’s a big mental thing going on all the time, you’ve got to ignore it and keep on going.
“But your knees hurt, your back hurts, and you just gotta throw that all out and remember what you’re fighting for.”
When they’d left Minnesota, Meadows said they’d raised over $11,000. But Wounded Warriors changed its donation platform so, even though they still received $11,835, Meadows had to start back at 0. To date, he’s got around $350 with the new donation portal. An earlier walk in 2019 ended when the couple needed a new van; that walk went from Sisseton, South Dakota to Aberdeen, South Dakota.
The most satisfying thing for Meadows has been the kindness of strangers. “Whether it’s a handshake or people who want to donate, you just have to experience it to believe it,” he said. “It keeps me passionate. That’s just cool as heck.”
For more information on Meadows or to donate, visit bit.ly/2EdXW26 (URL is case sensitive).
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