5 pairs of shoes and a purpose

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William Shuttleworth
Air Force veteran William Shuttleworth used his love of hiking to raise awareness of veterans’ issues by walking across the United States. (Photos courtesy of William Shuttleworth)

Veteran walks 3,300 miles, donates funds raised to DAV Charitable Service Trust

William Shuttleworth, a 71-year-old Air Force veteran, wanted to do something about the harsh realities facing many of America’s veterans. Something big.

As an avid hiker, the retired educator thought he could do what he knows best to raise public awareness of veterans’ issues such as homelessness and mental health: He could walk and let his feet do the talking. He set a goal to hike 3,300 miles from his hometown of Newbury, Mass., to San Diego.

“I just basically walked out my front door and took off,” said Shuttleworth, who started his 115-day journey May 15. “Maybe a week before I left, I walked all around town, anywhere I went, carrying my 32-pound backpack, just to get used to it. But other than that, I did no training. I just took off, told my wife goodbye and left.”

“He’s a big-idea person, so I was not surprised,” said his wife, Patty. “I really knew at the time that he would become a vessel for people’s stories that maybe they had never had before.”

William Shuttleworth
Shuttleworth (right) lent a listening ear to veterans across the country. Many veterans met him on his journey, using the opportunity to share their stories.

With Patty’s unwavering support, Shuttleworth set a goal to raise $5,000 for veterans while walking from town to town, providing comfort and a listening ear to veterans, families and friends who felt their concerns had been left unanswered. Just three weeks into his expedition, he’d already surpassed his goal.

“I thought, ‘This is turning into something that could be quite lovely,’” Shuttleworth recalled. So he set his goal higher, ultimately raising $70,000 for the DAV Charitable Service Trust.

Shuttleworth said he chose the Trust because he wanted the money to go directly to rehabilitation services for veterans.

“Veterans gave a lot and often have little to show for it,” he said. “More than 25% of all homeless men are veterans, and many of these forgotten warriors struggle with employment, addiction and sobriety. I wanted [donated funds] to go directly to the men and women that served [and to] services that needed it most.”

The DAV Charitable Service Trust supports physical and psychological rehabilitation programs, enhances research and mobility for veterans with amputations and spinal cord injuries, benefits aging veterans, aids and shelters homeless veterans, and evaluates and addresses the needs of veterans wounded in recent wars and conflicts. For those of every era, the Trust also supports programs that benefit the caregivers and families of ill and injured veterans.

William Shuttleworth
Shuttleworth’s 115-day mission ended in San Diego, Aug. 31. He was greeted by supporters from all eras of service and all walks of life.

“We are extremely grateful to William for—literally—going to great lengths to support our mission,” said Richard Marbes, president of the Trust. “He saw a need in our veteran community, and he sounded the alarm and brought attention to these critical issues veterans and their families face all across America.”

“I felt that … a veteran myself, an older guy, I had some appeal of meeting people in small towns and having conversations,” Shuttleworth said. “I didn’t actually expect it to be the news events and sort of the hype event that it became. And even though I was tried and tested a number of times across the country, I never thought—not one time—that I would not complete my walk.”

After averaging 30 miles a day, Shuttleworth’s walk ended Aug. 31 at the San Diego waterfront alongside the USS Midway. He said the hardest part of the trip was the last 10 days, when it was seldom below 100 degrees. But, he said, it was worth it.

“I wore out five pairs of shoes on my journey,” he said. “I saw ‘America the Beautiful,’ and it starts with her people—the kindest, most hardworking and generous people to give their shirt off their backs and do anything in the world for each other. They’re who this country is all about.”