Ric Ryan, the Walking Man of Murphys, enjoys the moment as he walks with UCLA Operation Mend in the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.
Ric Ryan began with a quest: to walk every day in the hope of escaping his demons from combat in Vietnam. Then he added a twist. Each time someone waved to him as he passed, he would respond with a wave and donate 25 cents to UCLA Operation Mend, a program that provides medical and psychological services to soldiers disfigured by war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he learned about from a story he saw on television. Ryan’s wife says his regular walks and generosity help him mentally, physically and emotionally to cope with his own war experience, while helping the wounded from the latest wars.
The people in the rural California Gold Country town of Murphys, population 3,000, where Ryan and his wife live, took notice, and soon they began to open their own wallets. What began as a trickle of donations became a flood — some people gave him hundreds of dollars at a time, and one wrote a check for $2,500 — and in three years, Ryan, a retired ironworker who wears braces on both legs and carries a hiking pole in one hand on his daily nine-mile walks, has waved more than 30,000 times and raised more than $48,000 in contributions and donated another $19,000 himself.
This past Veterans Day, the 68-year-old Marine Corps vet known as the Walking Man of Murphys took another walk, this time down Fifth Avenue in New York City with the Operation Mend team in the America’s Parade — the oldest and largest event in the United States to honor veterans.
Operation Mend surprised Ryan with an invitation to join the group — which included patients, surgeons, caregivers, friends and family — in the parade. “I was totally taken aback when they asked my wife and me to come with them to New York,” says Ryan. “I was overwhelmed by the experience. Walking with those veterans who have been helped by the program — that was the greatest thing. I felt truly honored to walk with them.”
UCLA Operation Mend in NYC
Ryan’s efforts demonstrate the power of one person’s commitment to help a cause in which he or she believes. “Ric Ryan mesmerizes me,” said philanthropist Ronald Katz, whose million-dollar contribution helped to launch Operation Mend, in an article about the Walking Man of Murphys that ran in the Los Angeles Times. “He’s one man walking, without even a sign, just a passion to help this enormous cadre of wounded soldiers. The money he gives is an extraordinary contribution of hope.”
For more information visit the UCLA Operation Mend website.