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Christian Living: Why one man stopped wearing shoes

Updated on September 5, 2011

“I’m an American, just trying to do the right thing.”

Ron Zaleski’s humility is just one step in his path to living a Christian life. At the age of 59, he began a journey that included thousands more steps, all leading to one goal.  He called it "The Long Walk Home."

Ron was a United States Marine from 1970-1972. He had orders to go to Vietnam, but in a twist of fate, his orders changed.

“Everybody I was supposed to go with went and got shot,” he said. “I was angry and arrogant back then, and I decided I didn’t want my friends to have died in vain.”

As a memorial to those friends, Ron stopped wearing shoes.

“They fought for my freedom. I can do what I want,” he remembers thinking. “I’m not wearing shoes.”

For years, Ron never told anybody why he chose to go barefoot. That changed, though, in 2005.

“A child asked me, and when that child asked me, it was as if God spoke to me through that child. I realized that I had a hollow memorial, a meaningless penance, because nobody knew why I did it.”

Quite simply, Ron said,

“I hadn’t helped my friends at all.”


A Change of Heart

From that day on, Ron made it his obligation to do what he believes God was telling him. He closed down his business and set off on a barefoot trek down the Appalachian Trail. He says that time on the trail served as his penance, as well as the perfect chance to reflect on how to put God’s word into action.

As a veteran, Ron’s goal became serving other veterans who’ve recently come home from war.

“They’ve come home. They’ve changed,” Ron commented. “Everybody that’s around them says, ‘This isn’t the guy I knew when he went in.’”

Those changes, Ron says, are a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, and lead to 18 veterans a day committing suicide.

“They divorce their spouse. They can’t see their children. They can’t get a job. They lose hope and the suicide rate goes up.” What’s worse, Ron says, is that “the suicide is the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is the families that are destroyed. The children’s lives that are changed forever.”

Ron decided to take it upon himself to seek changes in the law that would require mandatory counseling for all military personnel.

“I’d allowed it to happen, because I had done nothing for 33 years. That doesn’t work for me.”


Taking Action

He approached many congressmen with his ideas. While they applauded his efforts, they told him it was out of their hands. He would have to approach the Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, there were at least two politicians from every state on that committee. That’s when Ron came up with the idea of “The Long Walk Home.”

“I figure we’ll go to every state. Then when I go back to them, I’m gonna say, ‘You can’t help me now?’”

He made a cross-country voyage. On foot. Barefoot. Ron hiked over 3,500 miles from Massachusetts to California, all the while wearing a sign over his shoulders that said “18 veterans a day commit suicide.” Along the way, he collected petition signatures, took part in speaking engagements at churches, and always had time to stop and chat.

“Everyday that I walk, I meet some family member who tells me about their child coming home and committing suicide.”

His solution? Proactive counseling during bootcamp to prepare for possible trauma, and immediate counseling upon discharge.

“The more tools they have to help them make the transition back from the military world to a civilian world will help with their relationships and they’ll be a more productive human being.”

Ron's goal - to hand-deliver a petition, filled with signatures from every state, to the President. It’s the least he can do, as a fellow veteran, an American, and a humble servant of the Lord.

“At the end of the day when the dust settles, we’re the ones that do the work. We’re the ones that are gonna change this country, because we are America.”


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