Marine Corps veteran Nicholas Tully-Fern began serving his country in 2017 and now that he’s no longer serving in the American armed forces, his new mission is exploring America and getting to know the people of the land he served and protected. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and one mile at a time, Tully-Fern is walking across America.
“I had a last itch for an adventure and I saw someone walking across America and I was like that’s it…that’s what I’m gonna do,” says Tully-Fern. But that’s only part of the reason he’s walking. To learn more about why he’s truly walking, we have to go back to Camp Lejeune North Carolina where he was stationed. While at boot camp, Tully-Fern met his best friend, Ethan McKinney who died on May 30, 2021, in a Central Texas car crash. Not only had he lost a fellow Marine brother, Tully-Fern lost his mentor and confidante who he often times shared his future hopes and dreams with, during long talks.
To honor his Marine brother’s memory, Tully-Fern walks for him and for all of those in his military family who cannot make the walk themselves. As each day of his cross-country trek goes on, Tully-Fern says, “I’m not angry or sad about the past. When I look at the past I try to find joyous moments.”
For Tully-Fern, the joyous moments he speaks of are now just simply memories, but it’s the memory of his friend that brought this Portland, Oregon native to Texas. On May 30th, Tully-Fern found himself in Mason, Texas, the hometown of his Marine brother. When embarking on his walk across America, Tully-Fern wanted to visit Ethan McKinney’s family to be with them on the year anniversary of his death. His hope was he would bring peace and a little bit of happiness to their lives as they shared memories of a life lost too early.
“When I look at the past I try to find joyous moments. When I look towards the future, I try to find hope,” said Tully-Fern. While the death of one friend brought him Mason where he was able to help a grieving family, the trip to Texas also offered him the opportunity to meet a new friend in Conroe.
This new friend, a fellow Marine veteran and retired member of the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, Ken Henderson had been keeping up with Tully-Fern’s adventure across the country. The pair connected through Facebook and once in Conroe, Tully-Fern once again learned the bonds of brotherhood among Marines run deep. Henderson took Tully-Fern to Conroe’s Honor Café and introduced him to another Marine brother, Chris Sadler. Tully-Fern says it’s these types of gestures that give him a sense of peace and so much more. Tully-Fern says, “When I look towards the future, I try to find hope.”
As he searches for peace and hope, sometimes he says he finds both in the simplest ways, “A head nod, it’s a hello, good conversation, food, water, donations.” But at the same time, Tully-Fern says, “I feel because I’m receiving so much, I also need to be able to give.”
And give, he does. Tully-Fern tells a story during his journey as he neared El Paso of someone giving him $10.00., He recalls he was holding up a sign asking for a ride when “Someone pulled over and handed me $10.00.” In fact, the unexpected $10.00 donation came when he only had $2.00 in his account, but later, he says he understood why he was gifted the money. While at a gas station, Tully-Fern says a man gave him a bag with a bottle of water, some gum, and a one-dollar bill and told him he wanted to help. While to two talked for a while, Tully-Fern says the man proudly told him a new job he was going to be starting but didn’t know how he was going to get there because he didn’t have money for gas. That’s when Tully-Fern reached into his pocket and hand the man the $10 he had earlier been gifted. “It gave me the joy to be that person that he needed me to be,” says Tully-Fern.
On most days, Tully-Fern will tell you the hardest part of his day is getting out of his sleeping bag, he doesn’t keep track of the miles he’s walked, and that he has a simplistic view of the world. You may even learn he wants to one day receive a degree in mathematics and that the place he’s currently at, that’s his favorite place at the moment. Besides all of that, Tully-Fern says all he wants is to, “Meet and understand the people on a personal level.”