ORANGE PARK – Ron Zaleski was angry when he returned from Vietnam. Many looked at him with disdain. A country that asked him to carry a gun, fight the enemy and die if necessary, suddenly …
ORANGE PARK – Ron Zaleski was angry when he returned from Vietnam. Many looked at him with disdain. A country that asked him to carry a gun, fight the enemy and die if necessary, suddenly “didn’t even trust me with a spatula on a job.”
So Zaleski took off his shoes in defiance to memorialize the friends he lost in the Vietnam War.
It took 33 years for the former U.S. Marine to redirect his anger into action. He charted a course across the United States with stops at every significant battlefield. It was his way to finally find peace.
More than 3,400 miles later, Zaleski now wants others to find an outlet to resolve their pent-up frustration and fears.
“The problem is, when I took my shoes off, I didn’t tell anybody why I was doing it,” he said. “I realized I wasn’t solving anything.”
So he started walking. Barefoot. Across the country.
“What I discovered when I walked across the country is we haven’t healed from any of our wars,” he said. “When I stopped at Civil War sites, it’s clear some people from the South are still mad at some people from the North, and some people from the North are mad at some people from the South. I was offended to see this still going on today when I’m standing next to a cemetery with thousands of dead soldiers.”
Zaleski wants others to know his story – and learn from it. He will be a guest of the Rotary Club of Northeast Florida Thursday night at 6, June 3, at the Orange Park Presbyterian Church, 1905 Park Ave., where he will tell the story of his nonprofit organization, The Long Walk Home.
Proceeds from the appearance will benefit Zaleski’s organization which provides mentoring to soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other negative emotions.
“My message is simple: do something,” he said. “This is my call to arms. We all have a gift. I’m not special, but I found walking made me feel happy. When you share your time and your joy with another person, you’re going to help heal that person.”
Zaleski completed his walk in 2010, four years after he started his organization.
“I blamed everybody else for 33 years before I finally took responsibility for myself,” he said. “When I did that, my life changed. I took the power of myself. I realized it’s up to me, but it took a long time to figure out.”
Doctors told him earlier this year he must start wearing shoes. His feet often were cramped and writhed in pain.
“They said it was from years of walking on unnatural surfaces,” Zaleski said. “After all this time, it’s something I have to slowly work on. Right now, it’s just flip-flops and sandals. I don’t know when I will be able to wear a pair of shoes.”
Zaleski said his appearances aren’t about money. It’s about finding peace and happiness.
“It’s about helping people,” he said.
For more information about The Long Walk Home and his appearance in Orange Park, call (904) 923-9884 or (904) 631-2155.