W hen World War II Marine Corps veteran Sam Winstead reaches Washington, D.C. on his bicycle this weekend as part of his sixth Ride for Peace, he will have pedaled some 2,100 miles since he first started the annual journey back in 2012.
Winstead, 92, dropped by Culpeper Thursday to spread his message of “war no more” after leaving on his bike last weekend from Raleigh, North Carolina.
He’s made the 350-mile ride year after year to promote peace after surviving his service on the Pacific Front, including with the 1st Marine Division during its 1944 invasion of Peleliu. It’s considered the deadliest battle ever for the Marines with 1,800 killed in action and 8,000 wounded.
Winstead, of Leasburg, North Carolina, like many others fighting beside him, was just a teenager.
“We were supposed take the island in 72 hours. We were there for 15 days,” he said during his stop in Culpeper. “I was one of the lucky ones. It was a terrible experience.”
Winstead went on to survive 85 days in a foxhole in Okinawa, Japan, where he lost a buddy who had been with him since boot camp, Joe Kranick, a coal miner’s son.
“For me, it was war as usual, and I carried his body off the battlefield dumping it in a pile to be buried. I never had the chance to say, ‘Joe, I’m sorry.’ When I turned away, I never looked back,” Winstead wrote in a column for Reminisce.com.
For 65 years, he never talked about his war experiences. But then Winstead got a letter from his grandson, serving in Iraq, questioning why he was even there.
“He said, ‘Granddaddy, I am so depressed.’ So I had to get off my butt and do something,” Winstead said. “I couldn’t sit any longer.”
That was in 2012 and he’s been riding for peace every year since.
Friends, family and anti-war advocates have joined him along the way, including filmmaker Ahmed Selim. He’s making a documentary, set for release this year, about the multi-year bike trek called, “Sam’s Ride for Peace.”
“I’m thinking about calling it, ‘Bikes in the Time of ISIS,’” Selim, of North Carolina, joked during his stopover in Culpeper.
He emphasized focus on “a peace economy” with its goal of preventing violent conflict. Selim, who lived 15 years in the Middle East and is of Egyptian heritage, will be there with Winstead this weekend to meet with the Veterans for Peace. They’ll also be in the Memorial Day parade Monday in Washington, D.C. prior to gathering Tuesday at the Lincoln Memorial.
Six bike riders, including Selim, rode with Winstead into Culpeper this year and the crew included one pickup truck driver supporting the cyclists. The war veteran who wants no recognition for that service said he’ll keep riding for peace probably until he’s 100.
Vietnam Veteran Tom Trout has ridden with him the past three years.
“It’s about hanging out with this old guy and I’m into cycling,” he said.
Trout added that he’s battling cancer, possibly related to Agent Orange exposure.
“I really need to put my energy somewhere,” he said.
Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at email@example.com or 540/825-4315.
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