NEWBURYPORT — The city’s own William Shuttleworth touched ground in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday, making a stop on his 3,000-mile journey by foot to California to raise awareness for veterans’ issues.
Shuttleworth, a 71-year-old Air Force veteran, stepped off from Newburyport on May 15 with only a 25-pound backpack and two trekking poles, beginning his 7 1/2-month walk to converse with veterans and their families while raising public awareness about the prevalent health care, housing and financial issues dealt with by men and women who have served in the U.S. military.
Since his departure, Shuttleworth has walked through northern Massachusetts, passed through New York by way of Troy and Schenectady, and crossed northwestern Pennsylvania on his way to Ohio, making for a total distance of about 700 miles so far.
Averaging 10 to 14 hours of walking — and a total of about 30 miles — per day before crawling into his tent every night, Shuttleworth said he always makes plenty of time to sit and talk with people every chance he gets.
And so far, the trip has proven to be a success for Shuttleworth, who said he has been blown away by the amount of response he has received on the road.
“I’ve literally met hundreds and hundreds of people — it’s been way over the top of anything I ever thought I could create,” he said.
“I’m probably the most famous pedestrian in America,” he added with a laugh.
On the road, Shuttleworth said he is greeted daily by supporters, many of whom ask to take selfies, offer him donations or share their personal stories that are often accompanied by tears.
He said that some of the most profound discussions he’s had have been in diners, where he has sat with dozens of veterans and their families to simply listen to them.
“I’ve met families who have suffered generations of loss in war, and they all just suck it up,” said Shuttleworth. “If you could harvest the wisdom from all the people that are in these everyday diners, you wouldn’t need Congress.”
And thanks to the support of his online followers and local news outlets, Shuttleworth has also had some opportunities to address veterans’ issues in a public setting.
His arrival in Canton was announced on a local radio show Wednesday morning, and in the afternoon, he had been invited to speak at a Rotary Club event in town.
Feeling the momentum of his movement building as he makes his way across the country, Shuttleworth said he hopes to continue toward his ultimate goals, which include helping put more veterans in local, state and federal elected offices.
“The number one solution is to elect a vet,” said Shuttleworth, noting the declining number of veterans who serve as elected officials. “The number two is to get these veterans to continue to fight for their benefits. My hope is to light a fire under their bottoms so they can say, ‘I’m still an American, and I deserve benefits.’”
As he eyes his next milestone in Columbus, Ohio, which he hopes to reach by Saturday, it’s clear Shuttleworth is enjoying life on the road, and the feeling of helping those in need.
“It’s lovely, I love being out there,” he said.
To keep up with Shuttleworth’s journey west, visit his website at https://vetsdontforgetvets.com/.
To donate to his GoFundMe page, visit https://www.gofundme.com/vets-don039t-forget-vets/donate.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.