WESTBROOK — As a veteran of the United States Marines, Blake Toth of Westbrook knows the power of service. Since leaving the military he has tried to find ways to continue serving his community.
Toth embarked on a 171-mile journey along Route 302 from Vermont to Maine earlier this month to raise money for Honor Flight New England.
“I have lived along Route 302 my whole life and have wondered how far it went. I looked into it and thought I could run or walk the entire distance. I don’t know if anyone had ever done that before. It started as a joke with my friend, but when I looked into it and started planning, I realized I could do it,” said Toth, a 2012 graduate of Westbrook High School.
“I thought if I am going to do this, I don’t want to just do it for myself. I wanted to do it to raise money. I was looking for organizations I could feel a connection with and I came across Honor Flight. I met with them and knew that is who I wanted to do this for,” he said.
Since 2009, Honor Flight has taken veterans from World War II and the Korean War and those with terminal illnesses to Washington D.C. to see the monuments dedicated to their service and sacrifices. There is no cost to the veterans for the trip.
On Oct. 5, with a backpack and an American flag in hand, Toth set out from Montpelier, Vermont, and followed Route 302 along the Vermont countryside, through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and past Sebago Lake. He arrived in downtown Portland three days later.
The highlight of the trip, Toth said was the people he met along the way, including fellow veterans who simply wanted to shake his hand or marveled at his patriotism.
“The stories I was able to hear and the people and the support I got from complete strangers was the highlight for me,” he said.
He walked for 16 hours the first day.
“It seemed every time I wanted to stop, I met a stranger who made me want to continue. It made the pain go away,” he said.
“Route 302 provides us a direct route to so much,” Toth wrote on his fundraising page, gofundme.com/ARaceAgainstTime. “Let’s work together and provide our Veterans a direct route to a place for them. A place they can mourn and reflect, surrounded by people who care, fellow veterans who understand, and a day they will forever cherish, a last chance to remind them that we will never forget. All proceeds raised will be donated to this incredible organization, Honor Flight. These few days of hardship, pain and suffering will be nothing compared to what the men and women of The Greatest Generation have endured.”
As of Wednesday morning, through the gofundme page, Toth had raised $3,706, nearly 75 percent of his $5,000 fundraising goal.
“His journey will help us provide some of our oldest veterans a free trip to Washington D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials,” said Joe Byron, founder and executive director of Honor Flight New England. “Many describe it as one of the best days of their life.”
Byron said he was surprised and grateful when Toth reached out to the organization about his fundraising walk.
“We are incredibly appreciative of what he did for us and his service to this country,” Byron said.
Honor Flight New England has transported close to 1,950 veterans through more than 50 flights. The next flight of 25 veterans leaves from Logan International Airport in Boston on Oct. 21. The trips to the nation’s capital are made possible by private donations, such as the one Toth is making.
Toth said he has talked with Honor Flight New England about doing a similar trip next year. That trip, Toth said, will be just one way he intends to give back to his country as he continues his transition into civilian life.
“Even though I am not wearing a uniform anymore, I still want to serve others because there is no greater service than service to others. That is the way I am trying to live my life.
Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mkelleynews
Blake Toth arrived in Fryburg Oct. 7 and continued along Route 302 to arrive in downtown Portland on the morning of Oct. 8.
Blake Toth of Westbrook was all smiles at Deering Oaks Park in Portland Oct. 8 after walking more than 170 miles along Route 302 to raise money for Honor Flight Maine.
Stopping to take in the beauty of Shawnee Peak in ___.
Blake Toth’s journey to raise money for Honor Flight New England took him past several scenic sites, including the White Mountain National Park in New Hampshire.