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Curt Nix is embarking on a 3,500-mile trek to honor soldiers killed in Iraq. He will begin his journey in Joplin, Mo., continue through California and return to Decatur. Nix's 5-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Juneau, is helping him practice but is too young to make the trip.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Curt Nix is embarking on a 3,500-mile trek to honor soldiers killed in Iraq. He will begin his journey in Joplin, Mo., continue through California and return to Decatur. Nix's 5-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Juneau, is helping him practice but is too young to make the trip.

Memorial journey
Danville man to walk a mile for each soldier killed in Iraq

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com · 340-2443

The headline reads almost exactly the same every day: (Insert number) U.S. soldiers and Marines killed in Iraq.

When the war started, those words would appear in large, bold letters on the front pages of nearly all national and local newspapers, but over time, the stories have been replaced by stories about the death of former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith or the 2008 election campaigns.

The nation's desensitization to the rising death toll in Iraq weighed on Curt Nix's mind for months before he decided he needed to do something to honor fallen soldiers.

So he laced up his hiking boots and started walking.

Nix, a Decatur native living in Danville, plans to cross the nation on foot, walking a mile for each man or woman who has died since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.

According to the Department of Defense, that's 3,346 service members as of Sunday, and the number rises daily.

If life and weather permit, Nix will begin his trek Saturday, following a rally at Café 113 in Decatur.

He said he hopes his journey — not an easy feat for a 60-year-old man who recently started an exercise program — will garner enough media attention to make people think about the price of war.

"You read something every day — 'three more killed, five more killed' — and you get used to seeing it, so it stops meaning anything," he said. "I can't handle that. This needs to be on everyone's mind every day."

Not being political

Nix, who briefly served in the Marine Corps in the '60s, said he is not trying to make a political statement.

"This isn't about whether or not I agree with the war. If it was, I would lose sight of the whole point," he said. "This is just about drawing awareness for these heroes, honoring their names."

Nix got a list of the names of all U.S. deaths in Iraq from iCasualties.org, a non-partisan Web site that documents coalition casualties. The site also provided him biographical information about each person, including ages, hometowns and date of death.

He said each mile he walks will represent a specific soldier or Marine.

"After each mile, I'll check their name on the sheet," he said. "It's not about numbers. Each name is important."

Nix teared up when pointing out that 46 percent of the U.S. service members killed in Iraq have been 17- to 19-years-old.

He said he's especially touched by the sacrifice that combat soldiers make because many of his relatives have served, or are serving, in the Marine Corps.

The idea to raise awareness by walking across the United States came to Nix suddenly, he said.

"The war in Iraq, the men and women dying over there, has always been something on my mind, and even more so this year," he said. "On a personal level, I kept thinking I needed to get off my butt and do something meaningful, and it just came to me."

To prepare for his cross-country hike, Nix has been walking a few miles daily wearing a 50-pound vest. He said he'll probably start out covering 15 to 20 miles per day and hopes to build up to 30 or 40 as he gets stronger.

After the Café 113 rally, where his son Tyler works as a chef on Grant Street, Nix said he will walk six miles that day. The miles represent the first six U.S. deaths on March 21, 2003. The miles will honor the following Marines: Maj. Jay Aubin, 36; Capt. Ryan Beaupre, 30; 2nd Lt. Therrel Childers, 30; Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22; Cpl. Brian Kennedy, 25; and Staff Sgt. Kendall Waters-Bey, 29.

A small group of supporters has volunteered to walk those first six miles with Nix.

After walking outside the city limits, he'll drive to Joplin, Mo., where he'll hike up to the American Discovery Trail in Dodge City, Kan.

The trail, stretching more than 6,800 miles from Lewes, Del., to San Francisco, is the only coast-to-coast, non-motorized recreational trail in the U.S.

Nix said he plans to take the trail to the Pacific Coast but may take a detour around certain areas in Colorado to avoid high altitudes and severe weather.

After completing the about-1,500-mile trek to California, he'll turn around and head back to Alabama, logging more than 3,000 miles total.

He estimated that the journey will take five months.

Nix said he'll carry a backpack filled with the essentials: tent, sleeping bag, a few clothing items, toiletries, water and snacks.

He'll stop when he needs rest and will camp, rather than getting a hotel, most nights.

Though he'll travel alone through desolate areas and treacherous wilderness, Nix said he wasn't worried about any potential dangers and that the alone time will let him reflect on the soldiers' sacrifices.

"I've always been very comfortable with spending time alone," he said. "I'm doing this for them, but reflection will be one of the benefits for me. I've already felt more relaxed just since I decided to do this. It's like the little things don't bother me as much."

Nix said he will continue to walk in Decatur for fallen service members after he returns.

"When I get back, if five more are killed when I go into work, I'll walk five more miles that day and so on," he said. "I can't just stop because my trip is over."

Nix works at Bramlett Suzuki in Decatur. His employers support him and authorized a leave of absence, he said.

Local businesses have helped by providing items he'll need.

A shoe store owner, who did not want to be identified, gave him hiking boots and offered to replace them as needed.

Employees at Big Sam's Grocery Store on Old Moulton Road will accept donations to help cover food and other expenses. They also plan to display a map inside the store showing Nix's location.

Nix, along with friends and his son, is creating a Web site where visitors will be able to track his location, view pictures of his trip and leave messages of support. Nix said the Web site, www.thewalk.myeweb.net, is still under construction but will be updated soon.

A banner across the top of the page reads "Only the dead will see the end of war," a quote that is often attributed to Plato.

A mile for every U.S. death in Iraq

Decatur native Curt Nix plans to leave May 5 on a cross-country journey to raise awareness of the Iraq War’s rising death toll. He will walk one mile for each service member killed in Iraq since March 2003.

Café 113 on Grant Street is hosting a rally that day to show support for Nix and wish him a safe journey.

To find out more about his journey and to get updates on his location, visit www.thewalk.myeweb.net.

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