"I met Dennis Wood two years ago on the internet, walking the cyber highway. He raised his flags to catch my attention. I had been walking through life not looking beyond my world. I hadn't paid attention to Vietnam -- it was only a war. I was in highschool or college. I was traveling the world. Dennis made me "see" it for the first time. He made me realize the importance of remembering.
I have never been to the wall. Before, I might have seen only an impenetrable restraint. Now, I think I would see a foundation holding the reflections of humanity: men, women and families. Now, I see beyond the list of names to the people those names stand for. I see and honor those whose names are not on the wall--those who walk beside me, unseen. I also won't forget the missing. They live in my memory too.
What Dennis gave me was a gift. He gave me a glimpse into a world beyond that in which I walk. He gave me a view. His walk entered into my being changing my perspective for a lifetime. I look at his dusty boots and the road from which he came and thank him for a memory."
Dennis began his journey in 1986. The first Veterans Unity conference was to be held in Los Angeles that year and Dennis, anxious to see veterans united, announced that he would be there even if he had to arrive on foot. That was the beginning--the germ of the idea.
For the next six years Dennis hitch-hiked and walked all over the country wearing his heavy pack with those two flags waving like sails on ships. He went coast to coast and border to border, all through the heartland of America. In Canada he exchanged flags with Canadian Vietnam Veterans. "I crossed every social, cultural and economic barrier prevalent at the time. This was my way of gaining more public awareness for pow issues as well as other issues veterans have to face," he said.
Wood quit his job as an automobile body shop employee in 1985 and supported his family with military disability payments. His walk was additionally funded by support from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 97 in Dayton and by other veterans and community groups. "Everyone had been very supportive," Wood said, "Everywhere I went people would honk or give the thumbs up sign in appreciation. There were many who gave me a place to lay my sleeping bag or food to eat."
Dennis' family includes three sons, Damon who is 26, Justin, who is 16, and Joshua who is 14. Wood also has a daughter, Jamie Lynn, who is 29. Jamie was three months old when he went to Vietnam and sixteen months when he returned. "I kept thinking of what I wanted to leave for my children. I wanted to make the world a better place and bring back a better image of veterans. "
Dennis named his 78 pound pack Alice. The two flags extend from Alice, topped by blinking lights. Children and adults anxious to support Wood gave him buttons to put on his pack. Some buttons disappeared, but were replaced with new ones. A boy scout gave him a "No Fear" button, the Canadian Veterans Association and the Cleveland Mounted Police gave him patches. Every button or patch has meaning. They serve as reminders of the outpouring of support Dennis Wood received from every part of the continental United States and Canada.
In addition, Dennis received honors from all over the world celebrating his achievements. From the Australian veterans he received a walking stick commemorating his walk and was honored with the highest award given to veterans. He received eagle feathers from South Dakota and certificates of appreciation from numerous U.S. and Canadian cities.
"The memories are the most important part of the walk," Dennis said. "They are the honors I hold the closest. None of the awards mean as much as the people I met who supported me." Wood was able to meet Ray Hooper, the highest decorated veteran, who passed away some time ago in Indianapolis. Wood remembers him with respect for the man he was. He also was able to talk with Nguyen Cao Ky, former vice president and air marshal of South Vietnam as well as General William C. Westmoreland.
"Once at the wall I exchanged berets with Russian veterans of the Afghanistan war. It showed me that as veterans we are all alike. We all have a common bond in our humanity.'
'Arguing the right or wrong of the war is a moot point. What we have to do collectively is to bring the status of the V.A. community to a higher standard regarding things such as medical care and benefits. We need to insist the government fulfill its end of what was promised to us," Dennis said. "These were just a few of the reasons for my walk. I want people to know that we veterans are not throw away rifle shells. We live and breath, laugh and cry. But, more than that I walked to remember the names on the wall--to remember every man and woman whose name reminds us of what we lost in Vietnam. We didn't loose a war, a war lost us. And, I walked to let people know there are still more of America's children missing out there whose pictures are not found on milk cartons or fliers in the mail. They are the forgotten who still hold a place in the minds of those of us who returned."