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The Walking Marine survives heat of cross-country walk, plus gets a White House visit, to raise awareness of military veteran suicides

News & Record - 8/9/2020

Aug. 9--Since 2014, Terry Sharpe, aka The Walking Marine, has made an annual 300-plus mile trek to Washington by foot to raise awareness about military veteran suicide, but this year he had to do things a little differently.

The coronavirus pandemic derailed his usual May trip, so he moved the walk to July. Because of the threat of the virus, the summer heat and his age, his wife tried to convince him to not walk.

Sharpe, ever the determined Marine plunged forward with his plans.

"She gave up," Sharpe said with a chuckle of his wife's efforts. "Nah, she supports me 100%."

Lance Cpl. Sharpe, who joined the Marines in 1968, started the walk to bring awareness to the 22-plus U.S. veterans who commit suicide each day. Over the years, the 69-year-old has raised more than $50,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; the Nine Lives Foundation, which builds homes for homeless veterans; and a Rockingham County food pantry.

This year's walk also included a little added excitement. The Rockingham County Republican Party helped make it possible for Sharpe to meet President Donald Trump and Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence.

"I met Mrs. Pence, a big supporter of suicide prevention, at the Washington Monument, and she and I walked to White House," Sharpe said.

He was greeted by the U.S. Marine Band and met Trump (after being tested for COVID-19 and cleared by the president's medical team earlier that morning).

"Being in the White House helped this cause to go viral," Sharpe said of the nationwide media attention the walk received. "I've gotten lots of calls from people who want more information and want to help."

A Summerfield resident (the Rockingham County side), Sharpe began this year's walk July 1, accompanied by Wayne Jenkins of Stokesdale. Carrying the American flag and the Nine Lives flag, the two men averaged 10 miles a day.

"It usually takes 22 days in May, but in July it took us 26 days to complete the walk," Sharpe said. "It was brutal."

He decided to shorten the daily distance walked this year from 15 miles to 10 because of the intense heat of summer. A support vehicle the men, providing plenty of Gatorade and water.

"I got a little sick one day from the heat, but I was OK," Sharpe said.

He and Jenkins walked eight to nine hours each day, usually beginning at 6 a.m. to get more miles in before the heat of the day.

The duo arrived in Washington, a little tired and thirsty but overjoyed, on July 26. Sharpe has built a support system along his route, many of whom offer a place to stay at night. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and individuals donated some hotel room stays.

Sharpe said he encountered protesters in Ruckersville, Va., but marched right through them without any problems.

"The further you go north, the less people respond to you," he said.

He has had people wave and blow their car horns in support, as well as slow down to ask why he was walking. He hands each person a small plastic bag with an information card, a bracelet and a military toy.

"A lot of people don't know we are losing so many veterans each day and are surprised when I share with them The Walking Marine cause," Sharpe said.

Sharpe also has had a few people shout obscenities at him, flash him the middle finger and even throw a water bottle at him during his walks, but for the most part the public has been positive and receptive, he said.

For Sharpe, his mission to save veterans' live is crucial, which keeps him going year after year.

"Every year, someone may forget our 22 veterans, so I keep pounding so people will remember," he said. "It works, and I get the word out."


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