Wednesday, May 20, 2015– “How far have you ever walked?” asked Philip Brown while answering questions from school children visiting the historic 1840 North Carolina State Capitol. Philip had spent the last 9 days walking. He has walked through rain and steamy heat. He told me that one of the most difficult walks was along a road side trench where he felt like one leg grew longer to compensate for the slope. My back hurts just thinking about it! He has slept under the stars, in churches and hotels. His meals are from the kindness of strangers. People have read about him in the newspapers and pulled their cars over to chat. He walks all day long taking only a 30-45 minute break for lunch and a rest. He started in New Berne, N. C. and has clocked about 130 miles. He showed me the blisters on his feet that he earned for his trouble.
Philip was inspired by Washington Duke, who walked home after the Civil War ended. Brown is not portraying Duke specifically, but is representing all the Confederate soldiers who walked long distances to return to their often war torn homes after fighting in the war. He also hopes this will help people remember all the veterans who didn’t alway receive the hero’s welcome they deserved when they came home.
Memorial Day is a good time to ignore the SALES at the mall and think about the sacrifices that have given us our freedom. When is the last time you took your kids to a Veterans Memorial Day program?
He told me about Vietnam veterans he had met along his journey, many who had spent more than a year patrolling far-away jungles that were not only hostile because of enemy combatants, but often because of mother nature herself. He downplayed his tiring journey saying that this is a two week commitment, but those guys were in the jungles for over a year, and often came home to be spat upon by protesters.
Sadly, those protesters had ignored the fact that the young men of that generation had simply answered their government’s call to service, just like the young men of North Carolina answered their state’s call a century before. It’s doubtful these boys were anxious to sacrifice their lives, but they had a thing called HONOR that compelled them to serve.
Today too many North Carolinians have turned their backs on the men who answered their states call to serve in 1861. They disrespect them reasoning that they fought for slavery, just like the protesters of the 1960’s disrespected their peers who fought, calling them baby killers. Both are gross mischaracterizations that dishonor the memory of young men that bravely fought after being called to serve.
I was at the Capitol with my pal Woody to welcome Philip and talk to school groups about the Civil War and it’s impact on Raleigh. We portrayed Federal troops. If Washington Duke passed through Raleigh on his way home to Durham, this is who he would have encountered. Some 80,000 Federal troops camped around Raleigh, while surrender negotiations were taking place up the road at Bennett Place.
We had the opportunity to talk to several school groups, but they were often more interested in my bayonet than Phillip’s blistered feet. “Why didn’t you just take the bus?” asked one astonished 4th grader. Philip smiled and explained how walking gave him an opportunity to honor those veterans and draw some attention to them this memorial day. I’m not sure the youngsters understood the symbolism, because they asked again and again “…but why didn’t you just take a bus?”
As the crowds died down, Philip borrowed my knife to sharpen a pencil and added this days events to his journal. “What are you writing?” asked one visitor. “Memories” replied Philip. I’m sure walking 130 miles has generated many. I hope his visit to the Capitol was a pleasant one.
Philips journey will end at the Duke Homestead, having traveled a total distance of about 166 miles, on Saturday, May 23rd with a day long event that is open to the public.