MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE -- The military suicide rate has increased dramatically over the last several years, and a Vietnam veteran is walking across country to raise awareness for suicide prevention.
According to a recent Department of Defense preliminary report, more than 349 service members across the four branches died by suicide during 2012, setting a record for the highest rate of military suicides ever. Since 2005, more active-duty service members were lost to suicide than combat.
Chuck Lewis, a former sergeant and now Walking for the Fallen founder, is walking from Everett, Wash., to the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., to remember those who have fallen in combat and through suicide.
“Five years ago, my wife and I were sitting home on Christmas Eve,” said Lewis. “And I realized none of our six children will be home for the holiday, they were busy with schooling and jobs. I remembered what it was like being away during those holidays.”
Lewis later stood in uniform on the corner of an intersection of his hometown to show his dedication to the families who wouldn’t be together for the holiday.
Before starting the walk, Lewis stood in his hometown of Rowan, Mont., on Christmas Day with a sign stating “Standing here today in respect of those away.” News channels and local media approached Lewis and interviewed him to learn about his journey.
Lewis was later invited to stand at military appreciation events and gun shows. He used Vietnam-era equipment to raise awareness, give knowledge about past wars and invite people to donate money for wounded and disabled veterans.
“While doing this, I met a Marine who had just got home from Afghanistan,” said Lewis. “He lost his legs at the hips, and nobody knew he was home until they called for an honor guard, and I folded the flag for his funeral when he died by suicide.”
Lewis still follows the Marine Corps leadership traits and leads by example, nearly 40 years after leaving the Corps.
“Lewis is doing an amazing thing,” said Bo Pennock, retired captain. “He’s a strong man, and he’s still serving our country in a special way.”
Walking for the Fallen is more than just a walk, it’s a cross country journey for those Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen who have lost their lives to suicide and combat, said Lewis.
For more information or to track Lewis’ journey, visit www.walkingforthefallen.com.
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