Jerry Meadows just wants to return home, but the disabled veteran who arrived on foot last month in St. Cloud from Bemidji will not-not when there's still a job to do, a goal to reach.
The 61-year-old Air Force veteran walked into St. Cloud for the first time April 5 after leaving from Bemidji March 14 to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.
"I didn't raise the funds that should have been raised ... and so I'm going to have to do it again," he said of his initial walk that raised, as of Tuesday, April 30, about $4,000 of his $5,000 goal.
His perilous journey south on foot took him through Brainerd on April Fools' Day as cars, trucks and semitrailers sped by him along Highway 371 and later Highway 10 through several counties.
"I'm trying to avoid that length of a walk twice. That was more physically draining than I had ever imagined, but I'm willing to do it again," said Meadows, who sets off again Wednesday, May 1, from Bemidji. "The only thing that's going to stop me at this point is if I raise enough money."
The Wounded Warrior Project is a national nonpartisan nonprofit that seeks to connect, serve and empower wounded veterans of military actions after Sept. 11, 2001, through peers and programs; mental and physical health and wellness; and career and benefits counseling.
"This veteran plans to keep his promise," Meadows said of his fundraiser goal. "But I can't do it alone, so on May 1, I will leave from Bemidji and continue as far as it takes for the donation button to read $5,000. ... I'm planning to try to do a small part in making a better world."
Meadows and his wife began their journey last time from Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji on his birthday. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1260 in Bemidji gave the couple a send-off with a police escort out of town. For their second attempt, they will do everything exactly as before.
"People I never knew would just pull over, and we would share stories," Meadows said of his first journey several weeks ago.
Virginia Miller followed 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.
"My wonderful wife keeps me safe, and she took her job seriously," Meadows said.
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.
"I'm doing this because I'm a vet, and I'm actually ticked off because of all the crap that's on the TV of let's 'Make America Great Again,'" Meadows said in reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan.
A Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the St. Cloud area welcomed Meadows on April 5 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 through Crow Wing County to Stearns County.
"I just walked about six weeks ago ... and I met some of the most patriotic people I've ever met in my life. America is already great again. We just need to learn how to love it again," he said.
Ken Brock, also a veteran, left Feb. 1 on foot with his service dog Pam from Keystone Heights, Fla., and hopes to finish his 2,674-mile trip by July 4 in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. He has raised for Wounded Warrior Project about $1,445 of his $4,500 goal as of Tuesday, according to his GoFundMe webpage.
Meadows said of all the media coverage about his initial walk to St. Cloud, he received the most donations after the Brainerd Dispatch reported about his April 1 appearance in Brainerd.
"I truly believe I can reach that goal this second time around," Meadows said. "The one thing that I'm doing differently is this: I'm coming out stronger, and I am not going to stop. ... I'm going to be out there this time on the highway until we make $5,000."
The publicity stunt and fundraiser would be challenging for a man a third of Meadows' age, and he said the word "insane" has come up, given he has not seen a treadmill in years.
"I never even imagined this second trip. ... My feet are still bleeding from the last walk; they haven't had time to heal," Meadows said of his fundraising walks. "I can do my part to raise money, but I need the public to do their part, so I can go home. ... I'm a veteran. We don't stop."
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. (Donations to the organization are tax-deductible as charitable contributions.)
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, KS 66675-8516.
For more information about the organization, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.