Marine walks the outskirts of America for better Veteran healthcare

Savannah Chastain
Eddie Gray has been walking the outer states of America for six years to raise awareness for better Veteran healthcare benefits. Although he is covered by Cheyenne Tribal insurance he said he has borne witness to the hardships of Veteran care and wants to do all he can to bring improvements to the system.

Former Marine Eddie Gray has taken the Marine Corps motto, ‘Semper fidelis’ from heart to action. The Latin phrase meaning ‘always faithful’ or ‘always loyal,’ embodies the drive behind his epic walk around America to raise awareness for improved Veteran Healthcare.

“I love the Veterans and the troops. I want to make sure they are taken care of,” Gray said of the reason behind his walk. “It’s not about me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I feel like I need to give back.”

Gray comes from a long line of military veterans from his great-granddad to his brothers, and said Veteran’s benefits are close to his heart.

“Although I did serve, there are those who served before me. If I didn’t get hurt, I’d still be in myself. I got out way too early,” he said of his nearly two years in the Marine Corps.

Gray told The Log that it was actually while serving in the Marines that he first came up with the idea for his walk.

“The original thing I wanted to do was to see regular people in our country, and to see different people and places I’d never seen before,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I was going to die for someone who would it be for?’”

Gray’s short military career, spanning from 1998-2000, ended in a near-death vehicle accident while stationed in North Carolina. Gray said that the accident happened as he was driving a Humvee back from training.

“We had just got done coming from the weight room, and were going back to the barracks when we hit loose gravel at a T-section and slid right across and hit an embankment on the other side,” he said.

Gray explained that the impact of the seatbelt broke his sternum, leaving him critically injured.

“I died three times,” he said. “I flat-lined, the longest was for 13 minutes and 42 seconds.”

After being medically discharged from the Marines, Gray moved back to his hometown of Ashland, Mon., and joined the U.S. Forest Service. Ten years later he decided the time was right to start his circular country trek.   

“I thought of the walk in 1998, and started it in 2008, exactly 10 years after I thought of it,” he said.

Utilizing the training from both his military and forestry service, Gray began his walk in April of 2008.

“I went west first because I had five mountain passes to cross through, and two desserts,” Gray said, adding that he began in Ashland with the goal to reach all of the outer U.S. states.

To date, Gray has walked 6,700 miles, and said he is nearing the halfway point.

“Right around Savannah, Ga., I’ll be at 7,000 miles,” he said. “I probably have another five or six years before I’ve reached all of the outer states.”

When asked where he sleeps and how he funds the trip, Gray said it’s a mixture of donations and support from his tribe, the Cheyenne.

“Usually it’s a post, like the American Legion or the Marine Corps League. They’ll put me up in a hotel or I’ll stay in someone’s house,” he said.

Gray said that he only accepts offers for meals or necessities such as baby wipes, foot powder and socks.

“If people want to donate to anything other than my walk I lead them to their local Legion, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) or the Wounded Warrior Project.”   

Clad in military-issued camouflage pants, jungle boots and floppy ‘boonie’ hat, and carrying a 100-pound backpack. Gray is easy to spot on the side of the road.

“The size of my pack, the POW-MIA (Prisoner of War/ Missing in Action) flag; every Vet knows what it is,” said Gray when asked what aspect of his walk draws the most attention. “A lot of times people will see me with the pack and ask questions.”

“Sixty percent of donations I receive are from people who are curious.”

After a week in Destin, Gray left for his next stop of Panama City on Thursday night. While there he plans to speak with the mayor and Veteran Affairs (VA) representatives.

“I’ve already called ahead to the mayor’s office and VA office,” he said. “The main purpose of my walk is Veteran healthcare and benefits. I speak with mayors, governors and anyone who has something to do with Veteran healthcare. I have reason to be concerned, know what the Vets in the area feel like.” 

To find out more about Eddie Gray’s walk or to send a donation call Gray’s cell at 228-365-9683 or email him at grayshade0311@gmail.com.