MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
With only bare necessities in his pack and 8,000 miles left to walk, one former Marine searches for the answer to his and fellow service members’ sacrifice.
Eddie Gray recently passed through Camp Pendleton on his quest to conquer America’s 12,000-mile plus perimeter that started in Montana nearly two years ago. The former Marine infantryman took a moment from his journey to meet with local service members and explain the purpose of his endeavor.
"Back in 1998, I was running through mock ambush training at Camp Lejeune when a life-changing question popped into my head," said Gray, who was serving as a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division at the time. "I began to wonder who I would be dying for if this situation were real. It was at that moment I decided I had to walk around the United States to see if everyday Americans were worth the sacrifice," he said.
In 2000, Gray was severely injured in a vehicle accident and shattered his sternum. Gray was later medically discharged from the Marine Corps and soon found work on an oil derrick near his hometown in Montana. America’s War on Terrorism ensued the following year when terrorists attacked New York’s Twin Towers.
"After the war started, I began losing more and more friends in Iraq and Afghanistan," said 34-year-old Gray. "It then became less about discovering everyday Americans and more about the friends I lost overseas, the veterans I am lucky enough to meet and those still serving today."
A decade after he first questioned personal sacrifice, a declining economy and veteran neglect prompted Gray to begin walking in April of 2008. He has several sponsors that support his expedition and provide gear when needed.
For the last 20 months Gray has walked the outskirts of America frequently going days without food and sometimes even sleeping on gravel.
"The hardest part about this walk is the walk itself," said Gray. "The constant pace combined with the weight of my pack is probably the worst physical torment I have ever put my legs and feet through. The Marine Corps taught me the self discipline that allows me to push myself beyond what my body can take," he added.
Unrelenting Seattle rains left Gray with soaked shoes and trench-foot like injuries, temporarily halting his journey earlier this year. Donations helped his recovery and within weeks he continued his voyage down the Californian coast.
Gray’s hardships continued just miles south of San Francisco when he was accidentally locked inside the Golden Gate National Cemetery when it closed. Attempting to bless each headstone with a Native American ritual, Gray had underestimated the number of veterans buried in the 161-acre cemetery and loss track of time, finding himself trapped within the cemetery’s gates.
"I teared up a little when I saw the sheer number of headstones and wanted to honor their sacrifice," said Gray. "Most people might have been frightened or even a little scared, but I slept well knowing that I was amongst my brothers. "
Gray’s youngest brother is currently deployed to Iraq with the Montana Army National Guard.
"Remember what your freedom cost because our men and women in uniform are paying it with tears, blood and lives," said Gray. "I may only be a quarter of the way through my walk, but I now know, without a doubt, that this country is well worth the effort and sacrifices made."