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Welcome to the Gulf Coast and Happy Birthday Eddie Gray

By:  Deborah Heylman - GCN  4/4/14
 
Today, April 4, 2014 is Eddie Gray’s 39th birthday and begins the sixth year that he has been walking the perimeter of the United States in an effort to raise awareness for veteran’s health care, veteran’s rights, the plight of rural and homeless veterans and in honor of fallen friends and soldiers who were lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A quick Internet search of "Eddie Gray Walks America" will reveal a trail of news articles, YouTube videos and blogs piecing together the arduous journey he's made through nine states thus far with Mississippi being the tenth, as of  last week. 

Gray, a former Marine and Native American Cheyenne from Ashland, Montana began his trek from Ashland,  on April 3, 2008 at “13:29 hours,” one day before his 33rd birthday, carries a 90-pound backpack containing a tent, food, cooking essentials and, of course, an American flag.

(GCN Photo Right:  Eddie Gray)

The former Marine infantryman was slated to be deployed to Iraq. But, in 2000 was severely injured in a vehicle accident that shattered his sternum resulting in a numerous surgeries and a medical discharge.  Gray has lost many brother Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan .  “They paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said Gray.
 
While much of his time is spent in solitude, walking mostly at night often through desolate terrain, the tough-as-nails former Marine has had an encounter with a grizzly bear while crossing mountains in northern California.  He also has gotten a “love tap” from a mountain lion while filling his canteen,  been followed by wolves, bitten by a dog, sideswiped by vehicles, and impaled on rebar. 

When Gray visits towns along the way, he often times is welcomed by the members of the VFW, American Legion, Marine Corps League, other veterans’ organizations, mayors, city council members, and business leaders.  When he is not sharing coffee and camaraderie with former servicemen and women , he speaks at local schools, visits veteran’s cemeteries and hospitals.

Gray has met former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as the Governors of Montana, Washington, and Oregon. The list of mayors, city and county officials as well as business people from Montana to Louisiana  who have acknowledged  Gray is lengthy.

This past November he was welcomed by the Marine Corps League in Southwest Louisiana where he was able to discuss his travels and the purpose of his trek.  Gray and his mission was recognized by so many that by the time he left Calcasieu Parrish he was given an honor escort by police and supporters as reported by KPLC  .

From there he headed to Mississippi, and is currently in Biloxi where he plans to stay for several days. 

Gray anticipates spending another four to five years circumventing the United States before this part of his mission is complete.

When asked what he thinks about during his times of solitude walking, his response was powerful, yet humble, “I’m sure my [fallen] buddies would be happy to be walking with me.”
 
Eddie Gray can be reached at 228-365-9683, and will be visiting VFW Post 2434, Veterans Ave, Biloxi this weekend, or follow him on  facebook.com/eddie.gray.7771.
 

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