An Air Force veteran from Newburyport racked up impressive numbers this summer when we walked 3,000 miles, coast to coast. He raised more than $59,000 for a great cause, and met hundreds of people in towns and cities across America. Every step William Shuttleworth took was for veterans – veterans he doesn’t know and will never meet, but fellow veterans nonetheless.
Shuttleworth, a retired school administrator, trekked 25 to 30 miles per day to raise awareness and money under the slogan “Vets Don’t Forget Vets.” He walked through pounding rainstorms in the Midwest and treeless landscapes in the Southwest where the daytime temperature soared well over 100 degrees. He completed his walk last week in San Diego, California, after starting in Newburyport on the clear blue morning of May 15.
His adopted city, Newburyport, honored him Thursday with a ceremony across from City Hall. And again on Sunday, Shuttleworth was a featured guest at the Field of Honor flag ceremony on the Bartlet Mall in Newburyport.
Speaking Thursday morning – while wearing the flag-bedecked backpack he wore across America and surrounded by monuments in Brown Square honoring U.S. troops – Shuttleworth was clear as ever about why he made his long solo walk.
“I walked for 62,000 veterans that are homeless today, and 1.5 million that are at risk of becoming homeless,” he told the crowd. “All I can say is that they weren’t homeless when they went in service and signed on the dotted line to defend this country.”
That devotion to his cause is clear and Shuttleworth vowed to continue fundraising until he reaches his $100,000 goal.
It’s hard to imagine having the personal drive, at age 71, to walk alone, every day, from the Atlantic to the Pacific for a cause. Shuttleworth didn’t have a roster of corporate sponsors or a supply van tagging along with a comfortable bed and hot meals every night. He enjoyed the hospitality of good meals and occasional accommodations at veterans posts, private homes and community centers, but most often pitched his tent and crawled into his sleeping bag in a field or park when night fell.
In an Aug. 27 post on his website, Vetsdontforgetvets.com, Shuttleworth wrote that he had talked to hundreds of veterans during his 3½ months on the road, and the majority voiced frustration in their dealings with the Veterans Administration.
“Throughout this journey my awareness of the challenges, struggles, successes and failures of our Veterans Administration have been clarified and solidified,” he wrote.
“The Veterans Administration is in shambles,” he wrote, before recommending an independent counsel investigation of the VA’s operation and management.
“Critics will say this is a political recommendation. I define the political process as the wise, balanced and trustworthy allocation of finite tax dollars in serving our citizens. In that definition, then yes, this is part of our political system at the highest moral level to our country.”
In his talk Thursday morning, Shuttleworth vowed to continue fighting for better health care and housing for veterans, the reason behind his long walk.
But on a personal level, he talked about the reward of walking so far and meeting so many people who affirmed his belief in the goodness of Americans.
As reporter Jack Shea reported, Shuttleworth spoke from the heart to the crowd of friends, fellow veterans, family members and supporters who turned out to greet him.
“America starts with its ordinary American people that get up every day, silent American heroes,” he said. “Believe me, folks. You put these shoes on and you walk across America, and you see America the beautiful and it starts with its people.”
To donate to Shuttleworth’s GoFundMe page, visit www.gofundme.com/f/vets-don039t-forget-vets.