Veterans take Long Road for the lost

By Benny Westcott
Lebanon Local

Walking the entire length of U.S. Highway 20, America’s longest road, is a feat most people would probably consider impossible, or at the very least extremely difficult.
But one must consider three men who find themselves oh-so-close: Justin LeHew, Ray Shinohara and Coleman Kinzer. With 67 years of combined service in the Marine Corps among them, this trio has faced more than its fair share of head-on challenges.
When asked what made him think he could walk the 3,365 miles from Boston, Massachusetts, to Newport, Ore. LeHew said, “That’s an absolutely great question, and it’s an easy answer.
“Because we’re Marines. There’s three of us out here. We all served together. There’s a reason that they say ‘every clime and place’ (a line from ‘The Marines’ Hymn’).”
That included the frigid rain and wind that greeted the three as they arrived in Sweet Home around sunset Friday, Dec. 9, amidst a reception of citizens at the Shea Point wayside.
They set out for Lebanon the following morning and, Lehew said, jogged most of the way so they could make it to the hotel in time to catch a shower and the afternoon game.
The point of this epic journey, dubbed “The Long Road,” is to raise funds for History Flight, a nonprofit dedicated to identifying the remains of U.S. military personnel killed overseas and then arranging their transportation home for a proper burial. LeHew is the organization’s chief operating officer, while Kinzer is an assistant operations manager and team leader for its missions.
Since 2003, History Flight has helped recover, identify and return the remains of more than 160 service members killed in wars in Europe and the Pacific. It has also helped recover an additional 350 sets of remains that await identification by the federal Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA).
LeHew and Kinzer first embarked on “The Long Road” at the USS Constitution in Boston on Monday, June 6, the 78th anniversary of the Allies’ D-Day invasion of France during World War II. The place was significant, as the Constitution is the oldest commissioned Navy vessel, and the Marines are a part of the Navy.
Since that day, the walkers have dealt with a wide variety of conditions.

RAY “SHINO” SHINOHARA gives a hang-loose hand sign while showing his Danny the Elf friend, which has traveled with him since day one.

“There’s probably a reason that nobody’s really ever done this,” LeHew said. “It’s not like hiking the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail or anything. This is 3,365 miles crossing multiple climate zones. We’re in cold and rainy conditions, and two months ago we were in hot and sweaty conditions. We just came through the Santiam Pass where there’s snow and it’s four degrees, and it’s blowing up there. So you take 12 states worth of that and you string it along together, and it’s been an amazing journey.”
Shinohara joined LeHew and Kinzer in Elgin, Illinois, and the men continued down Highway 20, which state legislatures around the country are taking action to designate the Medal of Honor Highway. Shinohara had planned on walking the Pacific Crest Trail but decided to jump aboard “The Long Road” after hearing about the mission.
“A goal of mine to do the Pacific Crest Trail led to me doing ‘The Long Road’ and promoting a very noble cause to bring home our guys,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience. I’ll meet people on the Pacific Crest Trail, but it’s totally different from this. I get to walk it with two amazing individuals that I got to serve with when I was in the Marines. We never have a dull moment while we’re on the road.”
He spoke of the Oregon Cascades, then described what the journey meant overall.
“Great views, for sure,” he said. “Tight roads. A little slick sometimes, but we had all the gear necessary to complete the task, and we’re on the bottom of it now, so I guess we did it.”
“Every state and every town that we’ve been through has its own special experience,” he continued. “But I think the real special part is being able to let the American people know that we still have our nation’s missing in action, that are still very much important, and to get them back home to their families.
“We’ve been able to see and meet families that have got to see their missing-in-action loved ones come back home. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time it’s a very stoic feeling to have — that we’re doing this while everybody else is thinking that the world is OK. With whatever the world is going through right now, we still have people that are lost on the battlefield. We get to raise awareness and bring them back home.

Kinzer, Lehew and Shinohara pose for a photo while resting at the American Legion Post 51.

“Me, Rocky (Kinzer) and JD (LeHew) got to go to combat and bring home everybody that we lost, and hold to the institutional value that we leave nobody behind,” he concluded. “And being able to do this for our past service members is definitely an honor and a duty that we’ve all taken on.”
Along the way, Shinohara and his traveling companions met many new and exciting people and shared stories.
“It’s been amazing to see America from the ground, being able to take it nice and slow by walking and seeing the American people and how they’re thriving wherever they’re at,” he said.
Despite all the positive elements, however, the journey certainly isn’t a walk in the park.
“I think the biggest challenge is being able to do it every day,” Shinohara said. “It’s grueling, it’s hard, it’s hot, it’s cold. It’s unfavorable in some situations. But we’re three Marines and can pretty much handle anything that comes our way.”
Dozens of people greeted the retired Marines when they arrived at the Legion in Lebanon, then shook their hands and spoke with them.