In the Pipeline: Honoring soldiers with every step

It's after midnight, and I'm parked along Pacific Coast Highway at Goldenwest Street.

A thick marine layer is starting to roll in along with the pounding surf. Sitting in my car, I get a text:

"I'm here."

Stepping outside, I see a figure walking with purpose up the bike path from the beach. Mike Viti has arrived.

Viti is an Army veteran who is walking more than 4,200 miles around the Unites States in honor of every soldier killed since we went to war about 13 years ago.

The soft-spoken, resolute 28-year-old entered West Point in 2004 and became a selfless leader and a four-time letter winner, starting as fullback for the football team and eventually becoming team captain. After West Point, he was commissioned as a field artillery officer in the Army and served in several positions over the years.

Viti was deployed to Arghandab River Valley, Afghanistan, as a platoon leader and earned a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge for his exemplary service. He completed the Field Artillery Captain's Career Course in 2012 and served as an operations officer for the 214th Fires Brigade at Fort Sill, Okla. In 2013, Viti retired at the rank of captain.

As a civilian, he accepted a leadership position at a Fortune 100 company in Las Vegas, where he settled with his wife, Laura.

But something continued to nag at him.

"As this war winds down, I know there won't be any ticker-tape parades or formal treaties signed. So all of those Gold Star Families are left with that horrible feeling of loss," Viti said of the organization that helps families of servicemen and women lost in the nation's wars. "When I left the service last September, I started reflecting and decided to do something to honor all those that were killed."

So far, he has walked 1,200 to 1,300 miles. He will continue walking all year — he has taken a leave from work — planning to average 25 miles a day to hit his goal. That goal includes walking his last mile into the Baltimore stadium, where the Army-Navy football game will be played Dec. 13.

That last mile will be in honor of one if his Army teammates killed in the war. The second-to-last mile will be in honor of a fallen Navy football player. He will be joined by spouses and other family for the approach to the stadium.

Talk about a moment.

I asked Viti what he wants from those inspired by his journey, and his goal turns out to be a simple one.

"Just reach out and connect with Gold Star Families if you can," he said. "Ask them how they are. Ask if they need anything. I'm making as much time as I can during this project to visit with families. I know there is fatigue in this country after 13 years of war, but I think this might be the time to reenergize and focus on these families. All they need is some of our time, concern and consideration."

Viti said he is proud of the amazing work organizations like Wounded Warriors accomplish each year. And he knows that his project might seem a little less tangible than helping a wounded soldier, but he is determined to make a difference.

His specific goals are to inspire the American public to honor the legacies of more than 6,800 men and women killed in action during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rally national support on behalf of their families and raise money to erect permanent memorials in the hometowns of those killed in the two wars.

When my friend Leigh Ann Gilmore heard that Viti would be passing through Huntington Beach around 1 a.m. on July 3, she gave me his number, and moments later I was waiting for him. And I'll never forget the brief time we spent on that bike path.

On a practical note, as he continues his trek around the country, he will be in need of places to stay, given that his trip represents 232 nights in as many locations. On this particular night, I invited him to stay at my house, but he had already made plans with friends. Look at his itinerary and perhaps you can help. He also appreciates walking company, so feel free to join him.

As Viti disappeared into the night, I felt a huge surge of pride about his mission. He is a remarkable young man who didn't come through our city looking for fanfare. This is not about a reality show or selfish gain. His mission is personal — one of quiet compassion and determination.

Let's follow him, support him and help him help Gold Star Families. Read more about him at

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 25 books, including the new "Huntington Beach Chronicles: The Heart of Surf City" from History Press. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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