Published August 05, 2009, 12:00 AM

Duluth man pedals across the country for veterans

Duluth seaway pilot and Vietnam veteran Paul Halverson arrived in Bangor, Maine, on Tuesday afternoon, completing his cross-country bike trek to raise awareness for Disabled American Veterans.

By: Sarah Rosten , Duluth News Tribune

Duluth seaway pilot and Vietnam veteran Paul Halverson arrived in Bangor, Maine, on Tuesday afternoon, completing his cross-country bike trek to raise awareness for Disabled American Veterans.

Halverson, 62, left Everett, Wash., on May 15 with his daughter, Shara Halverson, running the first few miles of the 4,000 mile trip beside him. Tuesday, Shara Halverson was in Maine to share her father’s victory, running the last five miles at his side again.

“The whole trip, you know, from sea to shining sea, was fantastic,” Halverson said.

“It was just great to be here with him,” Shara Halverson said.

Halverson followed U.S. Highway 2 for most of the trip, with a detour through Canada via Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. With small U.S. and MIA-POW flags attached to his bike, he was welcomed in Bangor by a police escort that led him to the city’s Davenport Park. There he was presented with the keys to the city by Mayor Gerry Palmer.

Along the way, Halverson has created quite a fan base. Local newspapers and TV stations reported on him as he passed through, and he said more than one person stopped him on the road to ask if he was the guy they saw on TV. Some donated what they could to his cause.

Davis Helberg, former executive director of the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, has watched Halverson strive to help the maritime community over the years as much as he strives to help disabled veterans.

“For lack of a better term, he’s a nice guy,” Helberg said.

He said Halverson helped organize the Western Great Lakes Pilot Association in 1991 and over the years Halverson has fought for legislation that benefits maritime workers, even traveling to Washington, D.C., when necessary.

“Paul is a remarkable fellow,” Helberg said. “I really admire him.”

Halverson has been on disability leave since 2007 because of a torn rotator cuff. The inactivity that comes with injury motivated him to become a healthier person and ultimately to train for a cross-country bike ride. Last year he quit smoking, started eating healthier and began a workout regimen.

For Halverson, the most important part of his cross-country trip was the attention it has brought to the Disabled Veterans of America. His focus is recruiting more members, especially young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Halverson said when he returned from serving his two tours in Vietnam, he was suffering from shell shock and side effects from Agent Orange, and didn’t know where to turn for help.

“I didn’t want to have anything to do with anything military,” he said. “There was virtually no organizations around that [we] could trust and talk to.”

That was until he found the Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit group established by veterans to help veterans.

“The DAV is not funded by the federal government at all,” Halverson said, adding that “the DAV knows how to cut through” the government’s red tape and get military veterans the help they need.

“I’m not in it for me, I’m in it for the DAV,” Halverson said. “If it helps just one person, I’ve accomplished my mission.”

Nok-Noi Ricker of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this report.

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