Veteran traveling across US passes through Idaho, raises awareness of PTSD
Paul Beam, KPVI
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POCATELLO — A veteran who is taking a three-year trip through 37 different states found his way through Idaho this week.
We talked with Eli Smith, whose trip across the country is more than just a summer vacation.
Smith was a tank gunner for two years in South Korea, but when he came back to the United States he saw his compatriots fighting another war.
“I lost a couple guys that I served with to suicide, and I’ve always wanted to do something to raise awareness and let people know that we lose 20 veterans a day,” he said.
So he set out to walk the four corners of the country to raise awareness of PTSD and its effects. He walked from Florida to Washington and decided to trade his backpack in for a bike.
“Someone in Texas tried to kidnap me. A gang in San Diego had a bounty on my head. I’ve had a heat stroke, gotten hit by a car, run into a bear, showered with a rattlesnake. …”
The trails haven’t always been easy.
“Someone in Texas tried to kidnap me,” he said. “A gang in San Diego had a bounty on my head. I’ve had a heat stroke, gotten hit by a car, run into a bear, showered with a rattlesnake and countless other not-so-great days, but I’m still here, and as long as I’m breathing I’m going to see this through the end.”
Idaho is the latest stop on his country-wide trip, and he says it’s been a great experience, from the potatoes on the side of the road, to the people accepting of his cause.
“Boise was great,” he said. “That’s where they made a proclamation for the state to have a Veteran’s Suicide Awareness Month. I’ve actually used that terminology to help smaller towns around America adopt the same proclamation.”
Smith thought this trip may inspire one or two people, but after more than a year on the road, nine different veterans sent letters saying that hearing about his journey led them to seek help with their PTSD issues.
“I just thought maybe one or two people when I was done, it would be all worth it,” he said. “But to have this many people say that this journey’s helped them, and to know that I’ve reached so many people of the public that are helping now in their local communities and everything — it’s just beyond my wildest dreams.”
So far Smith has traveled about 6,000 miles and expects to finish his trip around November 2019.
This article first appeared on KPVI. It is used here with permission.