C. Ivan Stoltzfus spent six months sitting on a 1948 John Deere Model A before considering his mission complete in Sarasota, Florida. The 72-year-old crossed the country on his tractor at a steady clip of 10 miles per hour to raise awareness and money for veterans living with post traumatic stress disorder.
“Any parking lot I pull in, gas station I pull in, a number of veterans, policemen even come and just say ‘thank you for what you’re doing’,” Stoltzfus told CBS 12.
Stoltzfus’ trip was organized by Operation Second Chance, a Maryland-based nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans who suffer from the invisible wounds of PTSD. A camper hitched to the back of Stoltzfus’ John Deere advertised the mission, and broke the ice on many a conversation between the septuagenarian and the veterans he met along the way.
“They’re taught to hide their emotions, suck up and move on,” Stoltzfus said. “I have a love for people. I’m sensitive, especially when they’re hurting. When I see someone hurting, I hurt.”
Stoltzfus is not a veteran, but this isn’t the first time he’s made such a journey to advocate for their mental health. There have been three of such tractor trips so far. The second time Stoltzfus set out, he was approached by retired U.S. Army Sergeant Jeremy Jackson, who was wounded in Iraq.
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The veteran extended his gratitude to Stoltzfus, and with tears in his eyes, gave the civilian ally his Purple Heart.
“He said, ‘I have a gift for you.’ I open it up and it’s his Purple Heart. I said, ‘Jeremy, I can’t take that. You earned that.’ With tears in his eyes, he said, ‘Please take that. You earned that,’” Stoltzfus said.
Stoltzfus has carried Jackson’s Purple Heart with him ever since. It accompanied him on the trek to Florida, where he was welcomed with a procession of first responders and veterans on motorcycles, many eager to shake the man’s hand as he stepped off his John Deere.
“Thank you for your prayers,” Stoltzfus told the crowd in an emotional speech. “And your support. It was a great trip.”
Learn more about Stoltzfus and his trip in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.