Jerry Meadows made it on foot to St. Cloud from Bemidji-and he learned a few things along the way.
"I feel totally blessed, gracious and proud," Meadows said of his arduous and even dangerous journey south as cars, trucks and semis roared by him Monday along Highway 371 and Highway 10.
The 61-year-old disabled veteran arrived at about 4 a.m. Friday, April 5, in St. Cloud. He left on foot from Bemidji on March 14 to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.
"I learned something about America, and this is the closest to a political statement that I'm going to make. We don't have to 'Make America Great Again,'" said Meadows, who referred to President Donald Trump's slogan. "We just have to relearn how to love what we have."
The Wounded Warrior Project is a national nonpartisan organization that connects, serves and empowers wounded veterans of the military actions after Sept. 11, 2001.
"I have never seen so much support," Meadows said. "People would drive by and honk, pull over-I probably had a hundred people-just to see if I was OK or if I needed a ride. They had no clue what I was doing."
Meadows and his wife began their epic journey from the Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji on his birthday. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1260 in Bemidji sent them off, and they also had a police escort out of town.
"What did I learn is not what you see on TV. It's not brother fighting brother. I got pictures of highway patrolmen just coming out and giving us food that we didn't even need," said Williams, who said he was fine eating cold hot dogs the couple had in their motor vehicle.
Virginia Miller trailed her husband in a Jeep as he walked to St. Cloud, offering emotional and physical support to Meadows, who underwent a triple bypass. Meadows also has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 10 cardiac stents and requires supplemental oxygen to live.
"I was totally screwed up physically before I even started," said Meadows, a 61-year-old Air Force veteran from Wahpeton, N.D.
Meadows said the route from Bemidji to St. Cloud through Brainerd was chosen because it was centrally located. The driving distance from Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji to St. Cloud is about 150 miles, according to Google Maps.
"How am I feeling right now? I have no feet. ... My legs are blown," Meadows said by phone.
The Wounded Warrior Project connects wounded veterans, their families and caregivers to peers, programs and communities; provides free services related to mental and physical health and wellness; offers career and benefits counseling; and supports the severely injured for life.
The goal of Meadows and Miller was to raise $5,000. As of Friday afternoon, the couple raised $1,200, according to their donation webpage, which may not include direct donations from motorists who have come into contact with them.
"Would I do it again? If I don't raise $5,000, I'm literally considering walking back until I get it," Meadows said.
A Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the St. Cloud area planned to welcome Meadows with a reception once he had the chance to rest in a nearby motel after spending night after night sleeping in the Jeep as he made his way to Stearns County.
"We paid for the first night. I came down to pay for a second night. Then they realized who we were ... and they said, 'You know what? Don't even worry about it,'" Meadows said. "These are Americans. These are Americans."
How to donate
Those interested in donating to the Wounded Warrior Project can contact Jerry Meadows at 701-403-4993 or visit https://bit.ly/2XK9SBf.
Checks can also be made out to the nonprofit-write "Road Walker" in the check's memo section-and mailed to Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758516, Topeka, Kan. 66675-8516
For more information about the organization, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.