Walking to honor veterans

Published 1:35 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2009

There are multiple ways to honor this country’s troops and celebrate its independence on July 4.

However, for one Vietnamese American and former U.S. soldier that one day nor its conventional methods will suffice. Sinh Tho Nguyen is 20 days into an anticipated seven-month walking tour that began in Atlanta Beach, Fla., and will conclude in San Diego around Christmas.

“I used to wear the uniform,” said Nguyen. “I truly understand the meaning of our uniform. It’s a great calling for a great cause.”

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As he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge early Monday afternoon, he raved over the reception he has received so far on his journey.

“The people are very welcoming in Selma,” said Nguyen. “The more I walk, the more I have faith in America’s people.”

He came to America in 1992 by way of the Orderly Departure Program, which allowed Vietnamese refugees to immigrate to America. He served with the Texas National Guard from 1995-2000, and served with the U.S. Army from 2000-2005.

After leaving the armed services, he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and where he got a job reading water meters for Bermex Contracting Service.

After a year with the company, he hatched the plan for his shore-to-shore walk. Fort Worth branch supervisor Michael Wilson said few took his plan seriously at first, but Nguyen made it clear that it was something he was passionate about.

“We were all like, ‘You’re crazy,’” said Wilson. “I think he truly does appreciate this country. I think we take for granted the freedoms we have as Americans.”

Much to Wilson’s surprise, the 41-year-old Nguyen planned to make the trip by himself. But his talk and excitement over his journey rubbed off on fellow meter-reader David Domiguez, who has tagged along as Nguyen’s safety valve. He stays 1-2 miles ahead to give Nguyen an idea of what he can expect and remain close by if Nguyen needs water or is too tired to continue.

“It was the least thing I could do,” said Dominguez, a Mexican American. “I came in here just trying to do this with him, but now, it’s something I can really do for our nation, too.”

The main problem both faced when planning their trip was time. Wilson said with trip expected to take around seven months, both were required to resign their positions to make the journey. However, both will also be welcomed back with open arms if positions are available.

“We’re losing a good employee but for a good cause,” said Wilson.

The next six months will not be easy. Dominguez and Nguyen are pinching every penny along the way, affording themselves only one night a week in a motel room. They often sleep in a tent, church or in their car, and have had to resort to unusual methods when the traditional shower is not available. The strangest? A carwash.

“It feels good,” Dominguez said with a laugh. “You’ve never valued water so much until you do this.”

Despite the discomfort the journey has provided at times, Nguyen, who has done most of the walking in a pair of sandals, is happy and proud to continue carrying his American flag and said he will walk until he completes his journey.

“This is my dream, so troops will know we appreciate them,” said Nguyen. “This is the Vietnamese way from a Vietnamese veteran.”