A walk of honor
By RANDY GONZALES
HOXIE -- It started as a walk two years ago to honor 9/11 victims at Shanksville, Pa., and the Pentagon.
Mission accomplished. Then Joe "Tiger" Patrick was asked, "What next, walk across America?"
"That planted a seed," Patrick said Tuesday during a stop in this small town in Sheridan County.
"The only thing bigger to me than what happened 9/11 is our guys we're losing in the war.
"I'm a Desert Storm vet; I've always carried a guilt, that they're fighting our war. Since I couldn't have their back over there, I want to have their back over here."
After more than a year of researching names and reading their biographies, the faces of soldiers lost in Iraq and Afghanistan were made part of a canvas quilt that is 25 feet by 8 feet.
Patrick, who was spurred on to do his original walk after learning he had a liver disease, shoulders that quilt in the 90-pound pack he carries -- along with an American flag -- during his walk across America, which started in April in California. He plans to finish in October at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington. He plans to present the quilt at VA Headquarters.
The quilt has 6,688 faces on it, as of June 4. In his 64 days on his walk, 47 names have been added. Patrick, an Army veteran, said he needs to add 15 more names of military personnel who have been killed since June 4. Of the names, 74 are from Kansas, including Bryan Nichols, Hays; Derrick Lutters, Goodland; and Trenton Rhea, Oakley.
"I just want people to see their real faces, not statistics, not numbers," Patrick said.
Patrick, who planned to arrive in Hill City the next day, walks anywhere from 12 to 34 miles a day. He does it alone; there is no support vehicle. The hot weather has been an adjustment for Patrick, who grew up on the Atlantic coast.
"I'm from Rhode Island. We're used to the humidity, but there's a nice, cool breeze coming off the ocean," he said.
Patrick also carries a fireman's turncoat on his trek and has firefighters sign it. So far, he's collected more than 200 names. It's a tribute to the firefighters at 9/11. A firefighter organization has helped plan Patrick's trip, with stops planned along the way at firehouses.
Patrick displayed his quilt before a small group gathered at the Sheridan County Rural Fire Department building on a hot and muggy afternoon Tuesday. As he talked, Patrick brainstormed with those gathered for a place to sleep as he made his journey into eastern Kansas.
Patrick, who turns 50 on July 30, will be undeterred in his journey. When he is hot and tired, he turns to the faces on the quilt for inspiration. Each day, he chooses a biography of a person on the quilt, to learn more about that soldier.
"I always read a biography of a random person to keep going while walking," Patrick said.
Kendra Moss, who grew up in Hoxie, was at the firehouse Tuesday to see the quilt. Her husband, Joshua, is stationed in Afghanistan, in his second deployment with the Marines. They have two children, Kooper, 2, and Walker, 6 weeks old.
"It really puts it in perspective," Moss said of the quilt. "The vastness of it ... every one of these people, there's people behind those people, families."
Patrick, who is single, has a recruiting firm; he's a headhunter in the telecommunications industry. What he is communicating on his walk is it's all about the names on the quilt -- and their families.
"I wanted to honor them," he said. "It's not political. ... It's about the guys we lost -- men and women."