Man sets out on 5,000 mile hike throughout Asia to raise money for charity

man walks 5,000 miles across asia to help children Winston Fiore, a 26 year old Marine from Bloomington, Indiana, has set out on a 5,000 mile journey, by foot, throughout Southeast Asia and China. Fiore arrived in Southeast Asia on September 25, 2011, for what is called “Smile Trek”, and is projecting it will take him a year to walk the entire route, which begins and ends in Singapore.

The goal of the journey is to raise $50,000 or more for the International Children’s Surgery Foundation, a not-for-profit that provides children in developing countries with free corrective surgery. Through fundraising efforts, such as giving presentations at rotary clubs across the United States as well as having help from the CouchSurfing community who have helped organize benefit dinners, charity walks, and media interviews, Fiore has been able to raise over $28,000 for the cause.

Fiore’s inspiration for Smile Trek stems from an experience he had when training for the Marines in a very poor region of Lingure, Senegal. When he returned home, he read a newspaper article about a successful plastic surgeon in the United States who gave up his career to perform free surgeries in developing nations for children with cleft palates and lips. From there, the idea began to grow.

To follow Fiore’s Smile Trek or donate to his cause, visit his blog here.

Give the gift of travel for Veteran’s Day

Innkeepers across the country are doing something important to me: they’re offering discounts, specials and free nights to the people whose sacrifices let us enjoy our freedom to move. Inns that are members of BedandBreakfast.com are taking care of military personnel and first responders who are taking breaks from their tough lives. The deals vary by inn, but it’s worth a look for anybody who puts his or her life on the line at home or abroad.

And, I’m happy to report, there’s more.

Veteran’s Day is coming up, and BedandBreakfast.com is celebrating the service of so many by supporting Fisher House Foundation, a private-public partnership that supports members of the military when they’re in need. To participate, pick up a Getaway Gift Card from BedandBreakfast.com, and use the promotional code FisherBB. This is a great gift for a holiday that most people seem to overlook. They come in values ranging from $25 to $2,000 and can be printed online or mailed to the recipient in foil-lined envelopes. Do the latter – it’s not often these sorts of thank you gestures arrive on November 11.

Even if you’re not planning to participate in this deal, e-mail, tweet or otherwise spread the word. Let’s all chip in and help a few people who put their lives on hold for years to keep us safe.

Cambridge, England honors fallen American soldiers

Arlington National Cemetery has no parallel, yet for some families, it’s not enough. If yours is not resting in Arlington, then the national treasure takes a back seat to the bit of earth that matters more to you. As many people as Arlington serves, there are large U.S. cemeteries elsewhere that are profound in the numbers they protect. This becomes clear when the enormity of the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial assaults your senses. Taking their final rest in Cambridge, England, you’ll find 3,812 U.S. service members – veterans of World War II. Etched in stone are another 5,127 names – their remains have not yet been located. Standing alone above this touching display is an American flag to honor the fallen men and women who never made it home.

This isn’t what you’d expect in Great Britain. The nation sacrificed much of its own – service members, civilians, personal property, historic landmarks. The U.S. lives lost were many and traffic, but for Britain, the war was on its doorstep. Nonetheless, the nation is proud to recognize the help it received from the United States. And, to call Britain’s show of appreciation substantial would be an understatement.

Despite lying in Cambridge, the American Cemetery and Memorial is on U.S. soil. The employees, though locals, draw their checks from the U.S. government. Their hard work – it’s evident from the beginning of your first conversation with the staff – has little to do with compensation. As curator Arthur Brookes put it, “It’s not hard work at all, really.” Sweeping his hand across the endless rows of cross-marked graves, he emphasized, “They did the hard work.” He means it, as demonstrated by the piercing intensity of his eyes.

%Gallery-66413%

More than 70,000 people come to the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial every year, according to Brookes, including approximately 300 families of the fallen, though age is causing direct next of kin visitorship to shrink. On site, family members and other guests can learn about the U.S. service members buried and listed on the wall. Some names have near-universal recognition, such as Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., older brother to President John F. Kennedy. Leon R. Vance, Jr., whose name stands out in gold, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Of course, the most important name is the one you’re looking for – a fact driven home for me when I saw an older gentleman run his fingers through the grooves of a specific name.

High-profile or known only to family, there is only one organizing principle to the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial: family. Every attempt is made to bury brothers side-by-side. The very existence of this policy proves its necessity, unfortunately.

Brookes understands that it’s easy to be consumed by the gravity of the environment, which is why he tries to make it as uplifting as possible. While the loss of life is to be lamented, the courage and broader sense of purpose should be celebrated. These are soldiers, sailors, airman and Marines committed to defending freedom – and they succeeded, even if they did not make it home. Nonetheless, the nature of the cemetery centers on sacrifice, weighing down the positive messages conveyed.

The closest thing to good news on the wall is a bronze button affixed to the left of a name. It means that a service member’s remains have been recovered and positively identified. The last update came in 2003, when the remains of nine B-24 crew members were discovered in France. They were sent to Arlington National Cemetery but continue to be honored in England, as well.

Tying the cemetery together is the chapel, which sits at the far end of a reflecting pool that begins near the flag pole. Inside, you can see how the air, sea and land wars progressed in Europe. An altar sits beneath American flags, catching your eye as soon as you walk in the door.

Obviously, there is no bad time to visit the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, though some are designed to be more powerful. Major holidays are marked with special treatment, and nothing is allowed to get in the way. A series of Memorial Day ceremonies, this year, was met with driving rain. To Brookes, it wasn’t a problem. He’d lost track of how many pairs of pants and shoes he used. “It’s nothing compared to what they went through.”

Disclosure: Visit Britain picked up the tab for this, and British Airways paid for the flights. I’m glad they did: more Americans need to know about the Cambridge American Ceremony and Memorial.

Tourism Australia comes under fire from random retired American soldier

Tourism Australia nailed it. The struggle between work and life is reaching fever pitch. Those with jobs are working harder than ever, thanks to layoffs and a desperate play to look like top performers in case the axe comes down again. It’s a battle, sometimes, to take control of your life. This is the theme of Tourism Australia’s new campaign, “No Leave, No Life,” which drives home the fact that Australians are pissing away their vacation time and aren’t giving themselves the time away that they need.

So, the organization modeled a photo on the U.S. Marines (hey, Sydney Morning Herald, marines and soldiers aren’t the same thing) raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. You know the original picture. Everyone remembers it. Because everyone is familiar with this iconic photo, it’s easy for one to relate to it. That’s what makes Tourism Australia‘s picture of a family “raising” an umbrella particularly brilliant.

Well, there are a few people who would disagree, as you’ll see after the jump.

U.S. Army veteran (unless he’s really a marine – SMH can’t tell the different) Russell Wade wrote to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to complain. He’s pissed because it trivializes “an iconic picture of high significance to the American people.” Yet, he isn’t driven to anger by U.S. Marine commercials that equate fighting in a war to fantasy games in which fictional creatures are the enemy and are vanquished by knights with swords in a manner that implies death with what looks like a simple “zapping.”

Before we take Tourism Australia to task for its advertising decisions, let’s not forget that the Marines have had a few problems as well … occasionally seeming culturally tone-deaf.

Okay, back to the contested photos. Both photos were staged, so it really is a posed piece derived from a posed piece. And, it’s not like this is the worst instance of borrowing from military history and tradition to entertain, amuse or sell. Hell, where was Wade when Homer Simpson “trivialized” the U.S. Navy?

For that matter, where was he when the Village People did so? It looks like this guy has a shitload of letters to write.

The Village People can model entertainment on the U.S. military. The creators of The Simpsons can take it a step further (as they’ve done several times with the navy and the army, at this point). And, let’s face it. These go a lot deeper than modeling a photograph on a classic … mind you, a practice common in the arts.

I was a soldier for a while, and I have nothing but respect for those who served honorably. I just wish there could be a better sense of reality and an antidote for self-importance.