The American Legion’s 100-mile Walk for Hope began April 1 and goes until Aug. 31, and I am once again in the middle of it, doing the OGP’s work to keep the world safe for children, gardening and storytelling.
The Legion program encourages veterans, friends and family to stay healthy, exercising at least 30 minutes a day till they hit 100 ... then keep going. The registration fee supports the Legion’s fund for children who lose parents to war, but my walking mainly promotes the mission of Veteran Resilience Project. VRP provides EMDR trauma therapy to Minnesota veterans, helping children to not lose parents when they return from deployment. I walk every day anyway, so I am again, as last year, including several 20-mile days, to symbolize the need to end the toll of veterans who daily take their own lives.
Issue-oriented walks are not new. When I was 15 in 1961, I did JFK’s 50-mile hike. The whole neighborhood had signed on, “For the President and for our country,” but everyone turned up AWOL the morning of the walk. I went alone.
When I was 61 in 2007, my then-15-year-old grandson and I did a 61-mile hike, calling for better veteran mental health care, plus reducing numbers of veterans by working to replace violent warfare with more strategic negotiation.
This year, the Legion walk also gives credit for other exercises like gardening, up to three a day, so I’m counting hand removal of buckthorn and dandelions. I do this for the exercise and to avoid killing beneficial bees and earthworms with chemical sprays, but the OGP actually encourages it as a model for international relations. The OGP recommends pulling terrorists “by hand,” like a nonviolent police operation, rehabilitating troublemakers like composted dandelions. Moving strategically away from getting the “bad guys” with bombs and automatic weapons has the potential for creating fewer veterans in need of trauma remediation and fewer civilians dying or becoming homeless refugees.
My favorite walking/activist children’s story is “The Hero of Bremen” by Margaret Hodges. In it, Hans the Cobbler delights the children with tales of the legendary Knight Roland, while he makes shoes for the people of old Bremen. Ironically, his own legs are so weak he walks by dragging them with his arms. The expanding city needs to buy land owned by the Countess Emma outside the city walls, but Emma’s affairs are managed by her greedy nephew who can’t wait to inherit everything when she dies. To impress his generous aunt, the nephew offers the town all the land a man can walk around in a day, only to turn around and insist he gets to choose the man. He chooses Hans, and the brave shoemaker sets out on a presumably doomed quest. Dragging his legs thru bogs and over meadows, Hans collapses, exhausted, only to see the long-dead Roland miraculously appear to help him heroically win the land for his town.
Another is “The Stars Just Up the Street” by Sue Soltis. Mabel’s grandfather saw thousands of stars as a child, but they are barely visible from her backyard. She decides to walk the neighborhood, asking people to turn off lights for just one night, and to get the mayor do the same with street lights. They succeed, and for one night everyone in town sees the wondrous star-filled sky.
Finally, some story suggestions from a veteran walking friend, Larry Boatman. Larry walked a couple days on last year’s 100-mile Walk for Hope, as well as the 70-mile “Beating Weapons into Windmills” when I turned 70. He is gearing up for this year, and told me his now grown-up children loved Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant,” as well as the Harry Potter series, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and O Henry’s “The Cop and the Anthem.” Your own favorites are welcome, as is support for VRP, dismantling veteran nightmares. Replacing them with fulfilled civilian dreams makes veterans able to tell important tales to the children around them.