By Sarah Johnson
St. Clair Missourian Editor
A Sullivan area man on a 2,678-mile journey to honor veterans passed through St. Clair Tuesday morning.
Butch Azar, 68, carrying a “US Liberty Stick,” said he has come 1,700 miles so far, starting in Seal Beach, Calif., Jan. 23. He said he is walking for “God, country and the American soldier.”
Azar said he has been averaging about 13 miles a day and expects to arrive at his final destination, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 11.
“Please understand that this walk to the wall is in honor of all men and women soldiers and patriots who have ever given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for us,” he said. “Remember all of them who have been wounded in battle for us. Remember their families — they are us.”
Years before Azar embarked on the long walk, he said he was first inspired to make the stick he carries, but he didn’t know at the time what it would be used for.
The idea for the symbolic stick started in 2010, when Azar and his wife Patti went to the Vietnam Wall where he traced the name of a friend who was killed in that war. During the visit, the couple attended a rally multi-media personality Glenn Beck was giving at the Reflecting Pool.
“Glenn started speaking and in his speech he mentioned Moses and the Pharaoh, Azar said, “He mentioned the stick of Moses and the power of the stick against the most powerful man in the world at that time — Pharaoh. After hearing this, the seed was planted in me to make the US Liberty Stick.”
Azar started the “Liberty Stick Project” with a mental vision of a walking stick with the letters “US” on top, which he said symbolizes “we the people.” But he claims he was not supposed to do the project alone.
Azar said he was working on the computer one day when he got distracted and left the room for some time. When he came back in and rebooted the computer screen, there was an article on it about how Ben Franklin bequeathed a walking stick to his friend President George Washington. He claims the page miraculously appeared and was a sign from God.
Although at the time he said he didn’t know why he was shown that particular page, Azar later learned that a seventh-generation grandson of Ben Franklin, also named Ben Franklin, lived in Sullivan.
He met Franklin one day at a place he was working, and the two men became partners in the Liberty Stick Project.
The Liberty Stick Project joined the Kaufman Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity that has given more than $1 million to help all branches of veterans and children in need since 1991.
Azar said the idea for the cross-country journey came a few years after the project was underway, when he was on a float trip with his wife on the Current River.
“I had gone to God in prayer, and I remember saying that I was in a quandary,” Azar said, “I didn’t know which way to go with the Liberty Stick. Then the still, small voice of God delivered these thoughts to me: “Walk to the (Vietnam) Wall!”
The date Azar said he chose to arrive has symbolic meaning to him as well, as that date not only represents the terrorist attack on America of 2001, but it also is Patriots Day and Grandparents Day.
Azar said his passion for remembering those who gave their lives actually started in 1968 when he was drafted into the Army and slated to depart for Vietnam.
“I got drafted and was with the 198th Light Infantry Brigade,” Azar explained. “We were on maneuvers in Fort Hood, Texas. We were training to go to Vietnam. There were 2,000 of us.”
Azar said at the last minute, he received orders stating that he wouldn’t be leaving with his brigade.
“I felt so guilty,” he said. “I don’t understand why 1,999 left without me, but it just happened. Many of those 1,999 were killed over there.”
When the journey is complete, Azar said he will host a sunrise prayer service at the reflecting pool near the memorial. There he will cast one of the many symbolic cards that hang from the stick, the “Anchor of Hope” card, into the pool.
“The anchor of hope that was given to us, we the people, on 9/11/2001 (will be given) symbolically back to (God) at exactly 9:11 a.m.,” Azar said.
For more information on the project and Azar’s walk, visit www.libertystick.org.