- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

Keela Carr has felt a bond with soldiers all her life, and to show it she plans to place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery Friday.

But the gesture underscores a much larger sacrifice she has made over the past 2 1/2 months to show her support for U.S. veterans.

“I’ve given up everything to do this,” said Miss Carr, 35, of Apopka, Fla. “It’s good to believe very strongly in something - so strongly that you get up and act.”

On May 26, Miss Carr began a 2,700-mile walk - by her count - from Barstow, Calif., to Arlington with a laptop computer and some clothes, her few remaining possessions .

She sold her home, furniture and all, to have enough money for the trip across the country.

“I wanted to do something extremely personal,” Miss Carr said after visiting injured veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest on Thursday. “Walking and meeting people is personal. It’s an intimate encounter.”

Miss Carr snapped pictures and took video along the way and documented her journey on AThousandThanks.us.

She stayed at hotels during the beginning of her walk, but said she began making connections with strangers who heard about her mission. Many of them took her into their homes and fed her.

Miss Carr arrived at Walter Reed on Wednesday with her aunt, Rochelle Narain who flew up from her home in Snellville, Ga., to see her niece walk the last leg of her trip.

Mrs. Narain was driving alongside Miss Carr when she collapsed just outside the military hospital.

“When she fell on the ground, I was yelling, ‘You made it, you did it,’” Mrs. Narain said. “I pulled the car to the side and I ran over and fell on my knees beside her and started crying.”

Miss Carr plans to walk from Walter Reed to Arlington on Friday to complete the journey though she has no immediate plans for what to do next.

Miss Carr, who was an athletic trainer before the trip, said her love of the military began at age 3 with her attachment to her uncle, a Vietnam veteran.

In September, during one of her annual trips to Washington, she toured Walter Reed, which she said changed her life and gave her the gumption to do something big to show her support.

“I was on the stair-stepper at the gym and I decided I could walk from California, that’s easy,” she said. “In the grand scheme, it wasn’t the hardest thing [to do].”

Miss Carr’s spirits were generally high Thursday as she visited several soldiers at the hospital.

As her apparent exhaustion frayed her young looks, she complained she was “tired and cranky” - but said it with a smile.

She talked privately with the veterans in their rooms at the hospital and she gave a young Marine a quilt that had been knitted by a group of women from her church in Apopka.

Her face showed heartbreak when she heard how the soldiers were injured, but she came out of each room smiling, evidently feeling she had made a connection with each wounded warrior.

Miss Carr choked back tears as she offered encouraging words to a soldier as he struggled to use a walker, balancing himself to stay off an injured leg.

“It’s my greatest honor,” Miss Carr said. “I know real-life Spartans.”

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