Army veteran makes cross-country journey for fallen warriors
By Amanda Huffman
A United States Marine salutes the nation’s colors.
Today, the Marine’s clear view of the Pacific Ocean, out past the San Clemente Pier, is blanketed with grey skies, but the bronze statue stands tall and proud.
Embracing the overcast skies and cool weather, residents, veteran and active duty servicemen and women and their families gathered at Park Semper Fi to honor America’s fallen warriors and meet a man hoping to ensure the nation, as a whole, never forgets their sacrifices.
Mike Viti is no stranger to military service. A Pennsylvania native, Viti graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2008. Upon his West Point graduation, Viti was commissioned as a field artillery officer and stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.
For his service in Operation Enduring Freedom, Viti was awarded the nation’s fourth highest individual military award—the Bronze Star. It’s an honor bestowed on men and women who perform heroic or meritorious acts while serving in combat zones. Viti completed his service in 2013 as an Army captain.
Now, the 28-year-old veteran is paying his respects to the men and women who gave their lives. He’s hiking for heroes. Over the course of nine months, Viti is hiking 4,414 miles, or some 7,100 kilometers, in honor of each military member who gave their life in the Global War on Terror.
“These 6,815 heroes, to date, will not be forgotten,” Viti told the small crowd that came together in San Clemente on July 2. “They will be our generation’s heroes.”
Viti embarked on his journey, dubbed “Mike’s Hiking for Heroes,” on April 26 from DuPont, Washington—the halfway point between Tacoma and Olympia. Throughout May, Viti completed the Oregon leg of his trip before entering California. On Wednesday, July 2, he made his way into south Orange County, stopping at San Clemente’s military memorial park before heading south to San Diego.
His journey, he hopes, will raise awareness of the sacrifices made by service members and funds to erect individual monuments in the hometowns of these fallen Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen and women.
He’s also made meeting with and helping Gold Star family members—those who lost a son, daughter, husband, wife or other family member to combat—a top priority. At each stop Viti makes, he speaks to every Gold Star family he can. And after he makes appearances and speaks before crowds, like he did in San Clemente, Vito asks family members to stand with him so their fallen loved on can be recognized.
“That, to me, is worth every sacrifice I make for this because it’s truly meaningful,” Viti said of families sharing that his journey is therapeutic for them and helps keep memories alive.
With the help of his team, local Gold Star families added three names to an American flag Viti is carrying across the nation. It’s a flag, filling up with handwritten names that Viti invited local boy scouts to fold. And one that he’ll carry across the nation between now and December 13, where he will end his hike at the 115th playing of the Army-Navy football game in Baltimore, Maryland. From San Diego, Viti will head East across the southern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia before heading north through the Carolinas, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Track Viti’s cross-country journey at www.mikeshikingforheroes.com. Viti is also trying to raise funds. Last week, the Dana Point Fifth Marine Regiment Support Group donated $500 to his cause Visit, the website listed above for donation information.