By Susan Crowell / email@example.com
SALEM, Ohio — As Ivan Stoltzfus winds slowly across the country in his modified 1948 John Deere A, the reason he’s making this 5,500-mile journey is right in front of him.
The dash of the 1984 Peterbilt 359 cab is covered with photographs of veterans and active service members — their faces a constant reminder of a debt that Stoltzfus is trying to repay.
“So many of them are willing to give their lives in service for my freedom,” Stoltzfus said. “As I got older, I realized I took that freedom for granted.”
“Every morning when I get in that tractor, I think of them.”
And also prominently displayed among the photos is one veteran’s Purple Heart, a gift from former sharpshooter Jeremy Jackson, who stopped on the roadside outside of Pittsburgh with his wife and two sons to flag down Stoltzfus on his first trip. Jackson gave Stoltzfus a small box that contained the medal.
After that trip, Stoltzfus met with Jackson to have lunch and tried to return the medal, but Jackson wanted him to keep it.
“When you crawl in that tractor, and see all those pictures on the dash,” Stoltzfus said with a break in his voice, “it hits you.”
He’s making the trip — his third such cross-country trek in the old John Deere he’s dubbed the “Johnabilt” — to raise awareness of the ongoing needs of veterans. His own Across America for Wounded Heroes program has partnered with Operation Second Chance, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency financial assistance to service members and their families. Donations raised during his journey will benefit Operation Second Chance.
Stoltzfus, who used to farm and is now semi-retired as an auctioneer and real estate broker, started his journey May 10, leaving from the Operation Second Chance headquarters in Germantown, Maryland. He crossed into Ohio May 15, and is traveling west, hoping to reach Mount Rushmore by July Fourth, and an Operation Second Chance veterans retreat in Red Lodge, Montana, before heading south to Texas, then back east to Sarasota, Florida.
You can follow his progress and read his journal updates online at https://operationsecondchance.org/aafwh-home.
Information on donating is also available on the website, or by contacting Operation Second Chance at AcrossAmerica@OperationSecondChance.org or 301-972-1080.
Third trip for John Deere
In 2014, Stoltzfus drove his two-cylinder tractor roughly 4,000 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, raising funds for the Wounded Warrior Project. A second trip in 2016-17 put 8,400 miles on it as he circled the country and continued to raise funds and awareness for veterans and first responders suffering from PTSD.
He’s written books after each of his journeys, which compile his daily journal entries. On this trip, he said he’s making an extra effort to interview veterans, and get their names and contact information, to share their stories in his next book if they are willing.
The modified John Deere looks a little strange, with the modified Peterbilt cab, but Stoltzfus said the old model has been up to the task of winding along back roads, down highways, and over mountains. He admits, though, to modifying Psalm 23 and saying it over and over in his mind, “Yea, though I putt through this mountain…”
One of his sponsors and supporters from back home, the Waterloo Boys Two Cylinder Club of Southeastern Pa., helps him keep the tractor in road-worthy condition. He tows a modified trailer that serves as his home and a traveling billboard for his cause.
All along the way, he talks to supporters and strangers alike, including many state police or other safety officers who often do a U-turn to pull him over just to say thanks.
“I prayed with more police in 2017 than ever before,” Stoltzfus said,” which made me realize they struggle and have pain, too, with all the shootings.”
“They’re willing to keep going out to protect us, so our work is not finished.”
It’s not just about raising money, he added. It’s about letting veterans and safety forces know that others care.
“I see America as one big family, and families help each other.”
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