Veteran walking in honor of fallen peers

Alisha Jucevic/The Herald
Carrying an Uncle Sam figure on his back, Butch Azar of Leasburg, Mo., walked along State Road 161 north of Holland on Wednesday morning. Azar is midway through a 2,678-mile journey by foot to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. He started the journey in Seal Beach, Calif., on Jan. 23 and plans to arrive at the memorial at sunrise on Sept. 11.

By SAM STITES
sstites@dcherald.com

HOLLAND — Six years ago, Vietnam War veteran Butch Azar paid his first visit to the memorial for the American soldiers whose lives were lost during the conflict that lasted more than a decade.

Azar

Along the thousands of names etched in that quarter-mile-long stretch of granite wall, Azar found several with which he was familiar. The 69-year-old Missouri native took a pencil and sketched those names onto a piece of paper, a small reminder of those friends no longer with him.

It was then that Azar started to formulate an idea that he needed to do something to bring attention to the millions of veterans who have died and those still serving. He thought of the Hebrew prophet Moses and his journey to lead his people from persecution and enslavement in Egypt. That simple idea turned into potentially one of the biggest endeavors of his life — walking more than 2,500 miles across the country from California to Washington, D.C. This week, he’s crossing through southwest Indiana. He plans to reach the Vietnam War Memorial on Sept. 11.

“I’m walking in honor of God, country and the American soldier,” Azar said Wednesday, when he walked near Holland. “Our country is in big trouble.”

Since January when he began in Seal Beach, Calif., Azar has walked about 15 to 20 miles per day. He doesn’t necessarily walk in the direction of his goal but is instead walking the equivalent of the distance from coast to coast. He’s currently staying at Holland American Legion Post 343, from which he has walked a dozen miles out onto country roads, meeting people across Dubois and Spencer counties. He travels along interstates in his motor home, but makes stops at American Legions, state parks and other points of interest to camp and continue his walking.

“I think I’ve met more beautiful and kind people here in Indiana than anywhere else in the country,” Azar said.

He gave anecdotes of walking along State Road 64. People stopped, asked if he was OK if he needed water. Once they realize his mission, Azar said, passersby often sit and talk with him for up to an hour. Sometimes people come out of their homes to greet him and invite him inside for a bite to eat.

Azar carries several items that are of great importance to him. One is the wallet of Michael Snyder, a friend who died in Vietnam. He visited Snyder’s mother before he began his walk and asked for an item to carry in Snyder’s honor. She made him promise he’d carry it with him every step of the way.

Azar also carries a walking stick, but this is no ordinary cane. The top of the stick has a gold coin with the word “us” laser-engraved into it. For many, “US” might stand for the United States, but Azar takes a different view of the word.

He translates “us” into the proverbial us, or “we, the people,” the American people. He keeps the stick — “liberty stick,” as he calls it — as a small token to remind him of the hardworking, wholesome American’s whom he’s walking to honor and bring attention to social and political injustice.  

“The Democratic party and the Republican party have been partying too long on our dime,” Azar said. “I’ve met unbelievable people all along the way who have been very patriotic about what I’m doing. There are so many beautiful people in this country that have been dumped on by the government, and yet they're still patriotic about this country.”

As Azar nears his destination, he plans to meet with family, friends and others who he’s met along the way who promised to join in his walk to the Vietnam Memorial. That final day, he hopes to have as many people with him as possible to bring attention to what he views as a need for political and moral change in America.

Azar’s journey is chronicled on his website us.libertystick.org. The page has more than 135,000 views over the last seven months, and he hopes that continues to grow as he draws closer to Washington, D.C.




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