Twenty-seven years ago, Mike Clark was a 43-year-old Army veteran with scars from Vietnam when he heard about the abduction of a young boy near St. Joseph, MN .
The victim, Jacob Wetterling, was 11 years old — the same age as one of Clark’s sons.
A couple of months after Jacob’s kidnapping, the initial frenzy of media coverage was beginning to die down. Clark wanted to do something to bring attention to the Wetterling case and other unsolved child abductions.
He turned to a local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America that he had just helped form in his home city of Anoka, Chapter 470 . The group came up with the idea of walking the 61 miles from Anoka to the Wetterling home in St. Joseph.
For the veterans, Jacob’s disappearance brought back memories of friends and fellow soldiers who’d gone missing during the war and never came home. Missing a loved one at Christmas time was especially painful.
So in December 1989, a few days before Christmas, the group set out in bitterly cold temperatures. They walked for three days up U.S. Highway 10, carrying a flag bearing Wetterling’s photo and the words “Jacob’s Hope.”
They walked all day, returning home in the evenings to sleep. The next day, they started again where they’d left off.
The first day, they made it to Big Lake. The next day, to St. Cloud. Finally, on Christmas Day, with temperatures dipping to 17 below zero, the group arrived at the Wetterling home.
Five years passed. Jacob still hadn’t been found. The group repeated the walk in December 1994.
They walked again on the 10th anniversary, then again on the 15th. Then the 20th.
Over the years, they covered many miles along Highway 10, talking and getting to know one another. They formed a strong bond, one that would continue as the chapter became more active in the community.
On the 25th anniversary of Jacob’s disappearance in 2014, the group talked about walking again. But age had taken a toll on their bodies. Some of the veterans had passed away. Clark was having knee trouble. The others didn’t want to go on without him.
Then in September 2016 came the news that Danny Heinrich had confessed to abducting and killing Jacob. Jacob’s remains were found on a farm outside Paynesville.
Now it was time to walk again. Not to bring attention to the case in the hope of finding Jacob, but to bring it to a close.
On Saturday, a group of veterans walked from the site where Jacob was abducted 27 years ago. Slower now, they made their way down the mile-long stretch of road, the same stretch the three boys traveled on bikes on that fall night so long ago.
Clark’s oldest son is now 43, the same age Clark was when he did the first walk.
His younger son is 39, about same age Jacob would have been had he lived.
Among the group were some of the same veterans who had made the first walk in 1989.
All of the veterans are in their 70s now. Clark had double knee replacement surgery this year. A three-day walk would have been out of the question. But a mile, they could do.
They carried the flag they’d made all those years ago, this time as a gift to the Wetterling family. At the Wetterling home, they were welcomed with hot coffee and Patty’s cookies.
It wasn’t the ending that anyone wanted. But at least now, there are answers, and a final resting place for Jacob. The veterans are glad for that.
They won’t forget about missing kids. But their long-distance walking days are done.
Source: St. Cloud Times