PHOTO: Franklin Police officer and Mayor Ken Moore pose with wounded veterans on the Walk of America and soldiers from Ft. Campbell outside the Williamson County courthouse on Monday, July 30, 2018. / Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
About 600 miles into their 1,000 mile trek across the country, three British and three American veterans made a stop in downtown Franklin on Monday afternoon.
Participating in the first Walk of America, the group began their journey on June 2 in Los Angeles. After stops in Chattanooga, then Jacksonville, they will complete the route in New York city on September 6.
British charity Walking With the Wounded, which counts Prince Harry among its patrons, aims to help vulnerable veterans integrate back into society and be independent.
The organization has held similar walks across Great Britain to raise awareness of the physical and mental devastation war has on soldiers, but this is the first event in the United States.
After meeting Tennessee Titans players in the morning, the core six and their support team made their way through a heavy downpour, to the old courthouse on town square, where they were greeted by Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and county Mayor Rogers Anderson.
Anderson and Moore, both veterans, encouraged the group during a brief presentation, before Col. Derek Thomson, the leader of Ft. Campbell’s 101st Airborne Division, thanked the veterans for participating in the walk.
“Everyone comes back with some sort of wound from combat,” Thomson said, speaking of both mental illness and physical injuries. “What you all are doing is saying, we can’t ignore this. This is too important, this is too big of an insidious thing soldiers carry inside of them.”
After the welcome, the group was transported to Puckett’s Boat House via Franklin Transit to enjoy a buffet dinner in a private upstairs room.
The group was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Franklin at Breakfast, with help from Mike Alexander’s company, Signs First.
Rotarian John Knubel, who studied at Oxford University in England for three years after completing the Naval Academy, said a friend he had kept in contact with emailed him about the walk.
Viveca Johnstone, the Fundraising Administrator for Walking with the Wounded, said the true aim is raising awareness for the mental health component.
Sixty-three veterans die of suicide each day in the United States, and are a high-risk group for depression, anxiety and homelessness.
Two of the British veterans on the walk are homeless, living at The Beacon, a veterans support center. Neither had a supportive family environment to return home to after their military service.
Larry Hinkle, a veteran of the Marines who was deployed thrice to the Middle East, said he faced five knee surgeries after his tours, post-traumatic stress disorder, and “survivor’s guilt” after seeing his commanding officer killed next to him.
Of the walk, which included four days of rain and heat in southern Texas, he said, “it builds a lot of character.”
Along the way, the group hasn’t just become close friends. “We’re family,” Hinkle said.
Click here to follow them during their journey.