RICHMOND HILL, Ga. (WSAV) — There are 2,485 miles between the Tybee Beach and the Santa Monica piers.
Since John Ring started his cross-country walk from Tybee Island on Oct. 1 in support of veterans and the issues they face, the Georgia Army National Guard veteran has trekked 760 of those many miles, meeting fellow veterans and hearing their stories along the way.
Ring’s most recent stop was Shreveport, Louisiana, but right now, he’s home in Richmond Hill for the holidays and spending quality time with his 13-year-old son, Wyatt.
“I’m really proud of him, he’s doing a great job and I wish him the best of luck,” Wyatt told News 3.
On Sunday, Wyatt, his dad and those in support of Ring’s goal came out to All things Chocolate and More in Richmond Hill.
The chocolate shop hosted a fundraiser in support of Ring’s “Buddy Watch Walk – Pier to Pier” mission, donating 15 percent of each sale made on Sunday to his cause.
“I just want to thank everybody for their support, you know, it’s been amazing,” Ring told News 3.
“I can’t do this alone, it takes people paying attention, it takes people sharing.”
Ring has kept his followers updated on social media every step of the way, and in turn, he’s received an outpouring of support.
“Social media has been phenomenal, the comments have been very inspiring,” Ring said.
“I had somebody here in Richmond Hill whose sister met me in Alabama,” he said.
“People are really reaching out to their family, their friends, being supportive and finding places for us to stay along the way. I haven’t slept outside once, maybe in the last month.”
Shedding light on veterans’ issues
Ring covered most of Georgia and Alabama on his own, but he hasn’t had to walk solo for his entire journey; since Mississippi, he’s been walking with a retired 25-year-Army veteran, Jimmy Matthews.
The duo plans to meet back in Shreveport, Louisiana, after the holiday break on Jan. 3, where they’ll pick up where they left off and head into Texas on Jan. 4.
“It’s all to raise awareness to veteran’s issues like PTSD, homelessness, addiction, veterans in our criminal justice system, and then that leading to a horrific number of veteran suicides every day in our country,” Ring said.
“Jimmy and I try to make the walk fun, but at the same time, there is a very serious side to it,” he said.
Around 22 veterans take their own lives each day in the United States, according to a statistic shared on Ring’s website, wheresjohnring.com.
“I’ve had family members of soldiers that were killed in action come to us,” Ring said.
Since Ring left the Georgia coast, he’s encountered several people who have been inspired by his mission.
“I’ve spoken to Vietnam veterans, Korean veterans, WWII veterans, Iraq, Afghanistan, Desert Storm, I’ve had family members of soldiers that were killed in action come to us,” Ring said.
“Those veterans that are reaching out to us, and they’re saying, ‘I really support what you guys are doing,’ you guys are inspiring me,” he said, adding that if he can save even just one veteran’s life from Tybee Island to Santa Monica, California, his walk will have been entirely worth it.
Ring told News 3 that there are plenty of veterans going through hard times across the country, and many of their issues aren’t often discussed in the media.
His goal is to bring to light to those issues — and their stories.
“You’re not alone, and you can reach out to us for help” is Ring’s message to those veterans in need.
He’s only a phone call away, he said.
“My cell phone’s on our social media, you know, call us if you’re struggling.”
Also at Sunday’s fundraiser was Jason Zimmerman, a friend of Ring’s who met him when they both joined the National Guard at the same time in 2013.
Zimmerman joined Ring for two days of his journey.
“So far, we have the record of doing the longest walk together,” Zimmerman told News 3.
The pair covered 40 miles in a single day.
While the walk destroyed his feet, Zimmerman said, he added that he’s proud of the “great job” his friend has been doing on his journey.
“It’s pretty amazing what he’s doing to raise awareness and all the issues that veterans are facing in our society today,” Zimmerman said.
He wants to kick off a challenge in 2020 to every one of Ring’s followers to support the mission with a donation of $20.
Zimmerman started the challenge during his interview with News 3 as he firmly placed a $20 bill in Ring’s hand, to which Ring replied with a sincere “thank you” and a warm smile.
“If everybody did that, it’d help boost the funds for his cause and help him get to his goal of raising money for veterans and the issues that they face,” Zimmerman said.
What’s next for John and Jimmy?
For Ring’s next portion of his journey, he and Matthews plan to cover 926 miles of Texas over 72 days.
“Right now, we’re planning to be done around mid-April.”
Ring said, however, that as the walk has slowed down a bit as he takes the time to meet with more veterans, it becomes less about the mileage covered.
“It’s not about the time, it’s about reaching out to as many people as possible and sharing their stories that many veterans don’t talk about, but letting veterans know that hey, you’re not alone,” Ring said.