The U.S. Marine Corp veteran, carrying a large American flag, walked into Cartersville via U.S. Highway 41 just before 4 p.m. with a fire and police escort. McQuown is on a one-man mission to climb the steps of all 50 state capitols, a trek that will take him almost eight years and 15,000 miles to complete.
“When 9/11 happened, I noticed that our veterans were coming home and we had forgotten about them. … That didn’t sit very well with me. And that seems to happen with every conflict — Vietnam, Korea, all of them,” McQuown said. “So I wanted to do something to bring awareness back to the veterans.”
While camping with friends on July 4, 2010, the Stafford, Va., resident developed the idea to traverse the nation.
“I thought about it and prayed about it for months, and one day, it just occurred to me that every state produces a veteran so what better way to bring awareness back to them than to visit all 50 capitols,” McQuown said. “I thought, ‘I could do this. I’m a Marine. I learned to survive outside.’ And I’m not the most patient guy in the world, so I wanted to start the very next day. My family’s like, ‘Mac, you’ve got to think this through. It’s a huge endeavor.’”
Departing on Sept. 11, 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, McQuown made his way to ground zero before turning south. As of Wednesday evening, he had visited seven capitols in nine states, totaling 1,754 miles.
Escorted to the CFD station by fire and police personnel, McQuown was met with handshakes and a cold drink.
“The reception on the road was amazing. People pulled over today, tears were shed today. It was very humbling,” he said of the journey north from Cherokee County.
From here, McQuown will walk north to Dalton, where he graduated high school, before turning back south for Atlanta then California. On the west coast, he will board a cruise ship for Hawaii and Alaska. His trip, expected to end in six years, will carry him to his final stop — Arlington National Cemetery.
“Statistics are always in my head. On average, every day 18 … veterans commit suicide. Forty-seven percent of homeless people are veterans. Those shouldn’t be in the same paragraph,” he said. “ … I don’t know why we aren’t talking about veterans every day.
“I know we are all busy. … But, if you spot a veteran, whether they’re wearing a T-shirt or a hat or they’re in uniform, even if you hate the conflict, thank a veteran.”
McQuown met with Cartersville Fire Chief Scott Carter and Mayor Matt Santini after arriving in town. Both men asked for photos with the veteran and thanked him for his dedication.
“We are very honored you are making a stop in Cartersville,” Carter said. “… In all seriousness, we are very proud that you are here and thankful for what you do. My son just got done serving his time with the Navy. He took two tours in the Middle East — he’s finally home now. I personally appreciate what you’re doing.”
Visitors began trickling in shortly after McQuown arrived, each one asking for an autograph.
Rhonda Crosby and her daughter, Cheyenne, brought in a flag belonging to Crosby’s late father, a Vietnam veteran. McQuown choked up when asked to sign the flag’s casing, calling it one of the greatest honors of his journey.
Training for the massive undertaking by running or walking the 4 miles between his home and job in Virginia in the year leading up to his departure, McQuown said nothing prepared him for the changing terrain.
“I didn’t train for the hills. I know the farther west I go, there’s the Rocky Mountains, but … because I know myself well enough, at least out here there are curves, there are reference points when you are walking,” he said. “But, out in the Midwest like the Arizona desert, there’s going to be days where it’s flat forever and there’s no reference point. It’s going to drive me mentally crazy. ‘Where’s the end?’”
Regardless of how rough the journey becomes, the charming 51-year-old said he reminds himself of how lucky he truly is.
“This walk beats up my body every day from blisters to heel spurs to sunburn, but one thing that keeps me going …, I spoke with a guy named Travis Mills about a year ago,” he said. “Travis Mills is a 24-year-old Army veteran, and if you speak to him on the phone, you’ll never meet a more charismatic, optimistic, off-the-wall guy. He just glows optimism. But the difference between him and most people I know is an IED blew off all four limbs. And, for someone who deserves to complain, he never has a bad day. And when I have a bad day and my socks are bloody from my blisters, I’m like, ‘What do I really have to complain about?’”
To follow McQuown’s journey, visit www.operationwalkamerica.org or find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/macmcquownwalking. To donate to Silver Star Families, the organization sponsoring his journey, visit www.silverstarfamilies.org.