Iraq war veteran walks 5,800 miles to honor his Battalion
Los Angeles (CNN) This bastard’s road has been long and, at times, lonely.
He had to take it.
He was a combat veteran who had simply seen too much — too many brother Marines dead on the battlefield in Iraq.
When he came home he faced fresh battles: alcohol, arrests and a suicide attempt.
“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” Jonathan Hancock told CNN’s John Vause. “To assimilate back into a culture after leaving a brotherhood where you have the most amount of support and understanding. To leave that and scatter to the winds and continue on with life as you should — there was a piece of me that was lost.”
So he chose a date that resonated — and on September 11, 2015, Jonathan Hancock set out to prove that hurt would no longer define him.
Carrying 70 pounds of gear, he hit the road to walk 5,800 miles from Maryland to California and many backroads in between. He was searching for hope and healing.
“On a cross-country journey like this, you pitch a tent when you can,” Hancock explained. “I gotta be honest, there’s some trespassing along the way, so you have to keep a low profile. I did pick up a hotel a couple times month to shower and clean-up a bit.”
Along the way, he got poison oak in California, impetigo in Georgia and snake bites in South Dakota and Louisiana.
Hancock was forced to climb a tree in Montana because of a moose, ran into a white wolf on the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming and was stalked by a mountain lion for three days in Oregon.
“That really sucks when you can see if follow you down the road,” he said.
He endured all of this for three reasons, he said. He did it for self-healing, to visit fellow Marines and Gold Star families of the fallen — and to spread awareness about what it’s like for a war fighter to come home.
Hancock fought with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment — nicknamed The Magnificent Bastards — in the first Battle of Ramadi in 2004.
The unit suffered the highest casualty rate in the Iraq War out of any single infantry battalion with 20% of the entire 1,000-man force killed or wounded, according to the U.S. Marine Corps.
For many the battle hasn’t ended. Hancock’s marathon trek to honor their continuing struggle is being turned into a documentary called “Bastard’s Road.”
Hancock says 25-30% of his unit endures post-traumatic stress disorder and at least seven have committed suicide. “Not a man from Ramadi comes home and doesn’t feel something,” he said.
Hancock hopes his walk and his brotherhood can help heal some very deep wounds.
“There’s been tears and there’s been lots of hugs and reassurances that we’re gonna be there for each other,” Hancock said. “You speak about bad things and the memories that you hold dear to yourself and things you don’t share with your families. So you share them with each other.”
Hancock also knocked on the doors of Gold Star families.
“Their sons never came home and so to see a man who knew their sons or knew of their sons,” Hancock said, “I imagine that they would see their son walking home. It was tough for them and it was tough for me because you have to share in that emotion and grief.
“I wondered if I was strong enough to take that feeling on — over the course of time, I realized that I was and I should continue to do this.”
Now, 5,800 miles later, with feet that look like a “prehistoric river bed,” Hancock’s walk is coming to an end.
On December 12th, he’ll walk into Camp Pendleton — home to the 2/4 Marines, and on this leg of the journey — he’ll be far from alone. Many of his Magnificent Bastard brothers will be there to help guide him through the gates.
They’ll do so knowing that the United States is again in combat in Iraq. American troops are helping Iraqi coalition forces battle ISIS to recapture cities they helped liberate from Saddam Hussein more than a decade ago.
Hancock says he never questions any of the sacrifices the men of 2nd Battalion 4th Marines made in Ramadi.
“There’s an oath that a war fighter takes,” he explained. “When the first round cracks down range and you look to the man on your left and on your right — maybe it’s said, maybe it’s not — but you swear that you’ll die for that man. Although things have happened in Iraq and they continue to happen, there is not one day that I feel something is amiss or that what we did there was not for good. Because at the end of the day, those men died for me to come home.”
Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom L.A.”