The goodbyes lasted as long as the ceremony on the terrace of the Milwaukee County War Memorial as Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson prepared to set off by foot to Los Angeles.
They hope to arrive in January. Along the way, the Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans are raising funds to support a Milwaukee based veterans non-profit, Dryhootch. Formed by combat veterans to help veterans, the coffee house provides services for returning soldiers who face staggering challenges.
Dryhootch founder Bob Curry told the crowd on Friday that for some challenges such as PTSD and substance abuse never go away. According to Curry, a veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes. Curry says Milwaukee's veterans hospital is pushed beyond its capacity to serve returning soldiers; Dryhootch is working to fill in the gap.
The veterans walking across the country hope to raise $100,000. Anthony Anderson says he's overwhelmed by the response. They have already raised half of their goal before their journey even started.
The two have also heard from people across the country offering them food, shelter, shower and Internet access if they stop in their town. Anderson says he doesn't plan to turn anyone down on that offer.
As they prepared to leave Tom Voss helped his fellow trekker hoist his bulging backpack into position. Voss figures his pack weighs about 50 pounds.