LITTLE VALLEY — Members of Citizens Advocating Memorial Preservation (C.A.M.P.) and local residents gathered May 31 at the Civil War Memorial Building to meet and support veteran William Shuttleworth, on a coast-to-coast trek to raise awareness on veterans’ issues.

Shuttleworth, a 72-year-old Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam, started his 3,600-mile, seven-month walk from his from Newburyport, Mass., home May 15.

His agenda addresses homelessness, addiction, access to healthcare and to increase starting pay for enlistees to a liveable wage. He’s been averaging 30 miles a day and, as of May 31, he had walked 520 miles.

Along the way, he has met, shared and talked to individual vets at coffee shops and across dining room tables, as well as those in small groups at VA Centers, American Legions and VFWs.

In a small ceremony held outside the Memorial Building at the corner of Court and Seventh streets, attendees listened to Shuttleworth’s urgent message given on behalf of all veterans.

His idea to walk across America for veterans came to him last year while serving as a camp host at a state park in California for seven months. Shuttleworth created some sites for homeless vets and, every night when they sat at his picnic table, he’d hear similar stories of tragedies with drugs and alcohol and constant thoughts of suicide.

“When they came back from war, they were forgotten. They were injured and couldn’t get the services they needed,” he said. “After entering the VA hospital temporarily, they were put on opioids and other medications then discharged to the streets without any hope. They had no job training, they fell apart and people blamed them.”

According to Shuttleworth, 50 veterans in this country kill themselves every day, and one out of four homeless people living on the streets are veterans.

“When I came home, I told my wife, Patty, that instead of walking 20 miles in town every day, I might as well walk a straight line across the country and build a coalition from coast-to-coast of grassroots, ordinary people who are fed up with Congress and can make a difference by electing people that have strong belief systems and won’t forget a veteran,” he said. “In the 520 miles I’ve walked, I have literally met hundreds and hundreds of people that need this support. They are reaching out to be heard.”

Shuttleworth is also concerned about the low membership of younger veterans at the VFWs and American Legions across the country. He said if younger veterans and their families aren’t recruited to join these military groups, they will lose their power and their focus.

These military organizations need to reach out to the men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and support them to join because, without this advocacy group, they will lose their voice, he said.

Among those who greeted Shuttleworth as he passed through Little Valley were Democratic candidate Austin Morgan, campaigning to fill former Senator Catharine Young’s seat in Albany; Dan Williams, Cattaraugus/Allegany County Council Commander of the VFW; Joel Vanik, incoming Cattaraugus/Allegany County Council Commander of the VFW; and Steve McCord, director of veterans’ services in Cattaraugus County. The men spoke about the plight of United States veterans who have given their all for their country.

John Scarano, C.A.M.P. vice president who emceed the event, gave a speech tying Shuttleworth’s cause and C.A.M.P.’s cause together. He said both Shuttleworth and C.A.M.P. members advocate for all veterans.

“William is here for veterans and we [C.A.M.P. members] are here for veterans,” he said. “I knew we had to show him our concern for veterans and that C.A.M.P. supports his mission 100-percent.”

C.A.M.P. is currently working to restore the Civil War Memorial Building that commemorates the service of over 3,500 Civil War soldiers and sailors from Cattaraugus County. The building was dedicated to them Sept. 7, 1914, when over 200 surviving Cattaraugus County Civil War veterans were in attendance for the ceremony.

According to Scarano, most of those Civil War veterans were interviewed by newspapers and, on that day, they all had one thing to say, “Please don’t forget what we did there.”

“They did not want their efforts, suffering and courage to be forgotten. That is why C.A.M.P. is here. We don’t want what they did to be forgotten,” he said. “The veterans that William is walking for are basically saying the same thing today, ‘Please, don’t forget us.’”

Scarano said C.A.M.P. would like to see the Civil War Memorial Building complex, including the board of elections building, become a veterans’ center. He said the CAMPers hope this was the very first of events they will hold there for a long, long time.

Before arriving in Little Valley, Shuttleworth made a stop at the American Legion in Arcade and walked through Ellicottville, following Route 242. On June 1, he continued the route to Randolph with other local stops in Jamestown and Warren, Pa., before heading to Ohio and beyond to his destination at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in southern California.

“God willing, I’ll be in California by Columbus Day,” he said.

According to Microsoft News, MSN proudly honored Shuttleworth as their “Local Hero of the Month” for May for his inspiring commitment to improving the lives of U.S. veterans.

Track Shuttleworth’s journey across the country on his map found on his website, vetsdontforgetvets.com, where he can also be followed on his blog. He has created a GoFundMe Page at gofundme.com/vets-don039t-forget-vets/donate. He said every dollar will go directly to veterans for job training, drug treatment and support of homeless veterans.

(Contact press reporter Deb Everts at salpressdeb@gmail.com)