Pushing forward to honor first responders
PRICE — Maybe you saw him Friday, June 16, on the shoulder of Blue Star Memorial Highway. Or Tuesday, June 20, as he passed through Grasonville.
Waving an American flag from his wheelchair outfitted with American flags, he faced traffic and pushed himself backward on the side of U.S. Route 301 with his left — and only — leg.
Surprised by the unexpected traveler, you may have passed Dennis Schulze before you thought to wave back or honk your horn. But lots of other drivers returned his greeting with a smile and a wave — fulfilling part of his patriotic mission.
Ever since Schulze lost his leg in a near-fatal accident in 2012, he’s been on a mission to thank those who saved his life, as well as to demonstrate his “love, honor and respect” for all military, law enforcement personnel and emergency responders, he said.
Schulze also pushes himself to honor the memory of his cousin, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and canine police officer who was killed in action.
“I just want to say to them, ‘Thank you for putting that shield on every day for me,’” Schulze said.
At about 10 a.m. on a warm, humid day, Schulze was covering five miles of his third “patriotic journey handshake tour,” this time covering the more than 100-mile route from Wilmington, Del., to Washington, D.C.
His mission was to raise money for first responders and homeless veterans. His goal for this journey is “for President Trump to shake my hand” when he reaches the nation’s capital.
“It ain’t about politics,” Schulze said. “I don’t talk nothin’ political, and it’s nobody’s business anyway.”
Schulze’s spotter is Joan Sohn, who, along with their their 11-year-old pit bull Jack, waited for him in her car with a bottle of cold water on Hayden Road just off the highway dedicated to those who have served in the armed forces.
As he tried to position himself for a photo beside the Blue Star Memorial Highway sign, Corey Curley, a trucker from Dover, Del., stopped to ask Schulze if he could help lift his chair over the curb.
An Army veteran and reservist, Curley posed with his girlfriend, Alicia Franzen, also an Army veteran, as Sohn snapped a photo for Schulze’s Facebook page.
On June 14, Schulze stopped by the Maryland State Police Centreville Barracks to thank the officers, pose for photos and seek their advice about crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. He will push himself to Queenstown, then Grasonville and drive with Sohn across the bridge, then travel service roads as much as possible, according to MSP Sgt. A. Williams.
Schulze, 55, who lives in Beloit, Wis., was a long-haul trucker for about 25 years. After a serious 2012 accident in North Carolina, he found himself pinned in a wreck that drove a rod into his skull and crushed his right leg.
The only way to remove him from his rig was to amputate his leg below the knee at the crash site. He said he was fully conscious during the emergency amputation.
A series of infections forced surgeons to perform incremental amputations, he said, until a final operation removed his kneecap and part of his leg above it. That same day, his father died of Alzheimer’s disease, and a year later, his mother succumbed to cancer.
“He lived to take care of his mom,” Sohn said. Since then, Schulze, who misses trucking, has been on the move.
His first journey in December 2016 was from Beloit to the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field, 115 miles away. His second trek, starting in February, took him from his home to Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, 175 miles away.
Raising money for other causes dear to his heart is something Schulze said he’s done for years. The March of Dimes, Alzheimer’s research and the Wounded Warrior Project have benefitted from his fundraising efforts.
Schulze said his trips are self-funded, and he directs people to his Facebook and Go Fund Me pages when they try to hand him cash. He did accept, however, a donation from a MidShore resident who gave Schulze and Sohn six nights at any Holiday Inn Express.
On this Eastern Shore leg of his journey, Schulze is waiting to hear from his representative, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and the White House, to see if he can achieve his goal of shaking the president’s hand.
He plans to put on his prosthetic leg when he’s about a half-mile away from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “to walk for those who can’t walk.”
In the meantime, he will propel himself southwest with his left leg. He wants you to wave and honk your horn if you see him.
“There’s nothing better when I’m out there,” he said. “Part of my job is tell people there’s goodness in this world. When I wave the flag, it’s like a lottery ticket. If people are having a bad day and they see the flag, they smile.”
To learn more about Schulze and his journeys, visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/denniss.journey
Follow me on Twitter @connie_stardem.
On his “patriotic journey tour,” Dennis Schulze chats with Army veterans Alicia Franzen and Corey Curley on June 16 at the Blue Star Memorial Highway sign on the grounds of the US301 Bay Country Rest Area near Price.