ROWLETT, Texas—A former Marine has been honoring veterans, both past, and present, for the last four years by walking a two-mile bridge along SH 66 over Lake Ray Hubbard between Rowlett and Rockwall.
Jeffery Gray, 58, served in the Marines between 1978 and 1989. He was stationed throughout the world during the Cold War and served in various roles from embassy guard to artilleryman.
But four years ago, when he was 54, his health started to decline. He weighed nearly 400 pounds and decided to take a stand. He underwent gastric sleeve surgery and to lose weight, started walking back and forth along the two-mile bridge on SH 66 between Rockwall and Rowlett almost daily.
The walk is 4 miles in total, and Gray says he can now complete the walk in under an hour and a half.
And what started as a way to lose weight, quickly turned into an opportunity to honor former and current veterans.
Gray began carrying a rucksack and the U.S. flag with him to show his support for the military.
“I try to walk without it and I can’t,” Gray said. “It gives me strength because I know I’m doing it for a purpose other than myself.”
“If I give one person—one veteran—a smile, then I’ve done my job.”
And Gray’s purpose goes deeper. When Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or Independence Day rolls around—he puts out 22 flags along the bridge to honor veterans who have committed suicide.
“I’m representing them because they can’t be here,” Gray said. “I’m here instead, and it’s about them.”
Gray gets permission before putting those flags out, and checks on them daily during his walks to make sure that they’re not tattered or stolen.
He says he wants people to notice, and to understand that there are some who gave their all and that they aren’t around to celebrate some of America’s fondest holidays.
“If I’m doing this, they’ll never be forgotten,” Gray said. This Marine will be walking over Lake Ray Hubbard for years to come.
"I feel like it's my duty," Gray said. "If I'm alive and I can do this, then I'm going to do it."