Thirty years ago John Mumby fought for the US Army in Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. This week he’s fighting to raise awareness of the war’s effects, known as Gulf War Syndrome, by walking 300 miles in a trek that runs through Anderson County.
Mumby left his home in Winnsboro, Texas, last week and expects to arrive in Austin by the end of October. He reached Frankston on Tuesday and Palestine on Wednesday. The 20-mile journey includes challenging terrain with rolling hills along Highway 155.
Mumby reported feeling exhausted after walking about two hours Wednesday morning bearing a 45-pound rucksack and a large navy blue flag with “Desert Storm Veteran” in yellow letters.
“I never thought I’d do this, not in a million years,” said Mumby while stopping to catch his breath along Hwy 155 Wednesday morning. His purpose is to raise awareness for unexplained health issues experienced by veterans that are known as Gulf War Syndrome and funds for research into its causes.
The Persian Gulf War, also called Operation Desert Storm, started in 1990 when a coalition of United Nations forces responded to Iraq’s seizure of Kuwait and invaded Iraq.
“Not too many people remember but it was a chemical war, and that has affected quite a few soldiers,” Mumby said. The symptoms can be debilitating and I had come down with some of those symptoms myself.”
The symptoms are so severe they stand in the way of the ability to perform certain jobs but the government does not compensate veterans for their disabilities.
“When you ask for certain help, it seems that the VA (US Veterans Affairs) does not want to be involved in helping,” Mumby said. “VA disabilities and compensation don’t recognize Gulf War illnesses altogether.”
Though jobs are not difficult to find, few employers can accommodate a veteran’s disabilities while they’re working.
During his walk, Mumby receives support from another veteran, John Ring of Mineola, Texas, of Walk for Vets. Ring trekked across the southern US, over 2,500 miles, in a months-long journey in 2019 and 2020. Ring is alerting media outlets along the route and requesting accommodations from communities along the way.
Another Gulf War veteran walked with Mumby Tuesday afternoon through Frankston and treated him to dinner at Pepita’s Mexican Kitchen. That evening he slept in a room at Frankston’s United Methodist Church where church members allowed him to shower and gave him water.
Ring said his mission is to address issues facing veterans and the epidemic of veteran suicides, which now average 22 every day. Ring is a seven-year veteran of the US Army.
“I don’t deal with any of the issues that I walk for but my son does and my friends do,” Ring said. “That inspired me to help other veterans to do something other than, you know, close up.”
Mumby, a 10-year veteran, confirmed he’s also struggled with suicide.
“I personally spent a month in treatment because I tried to take my own life,” Mumby said. “Suicide is definitely an issue among veterans.”
Mumby explained many veterans commit suicide because they feel “out of place.” Another is a lack of treatment options. Mumby said he is walking to focus on positive things and “keep my mind busy and occupied and not have to completely focus on negative things.”
“Once I get to Austin I hope to have a little bit of a platform,” Mumby said. “I just want to ask people to pressure their senators and their congressmen to push legislation to get the VA to accept and recognize Gulf War illnesses for what they are.”
Mumby arrived at the Anderson County Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Wednesday afternoon. The local VFW, formally known as Post 8924 Anderson County Memorial Post, is hosting his two-night stay. Thursday is a rest day and he’ll remain in Palestine Thursday night.
Mumby resumes his journey along Highway 79 Friday morning toward Oakwood, Texas, hoping to connect with other veterans and family members along the way.
“The overwhelming response is that people are paying attention,” Mumby said. “When people are faced with dealing with someone who has these health issues they understand better how to help.”
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center is a leader in research on Gulf War Syndrome and accepts donations at a page called the “Col. Bill Davis Research Fund on Gulf War Illness.” The donation site is located inside the website, www.utsouthwestern.edu/research.