After two DUIs and a suicide attempt, Iraq War veteran Jonathan Hancock had hit rock bottom.
Deciding he needed to do something dramatic to restart his life, Hancock made plans to walk across America, reconnecting with brethren from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines who had fought alongside him in Iraq. He would visit mothers who had lost sons there.
On Monday, 15 months and 5,800 miles after he set out from College Park, Md., on Sept. 11, 2015, Hancock, 33, completed his journey. He walked the final 7 miles from San Clemente onto Camp Pendleton, to the 5th Marines Memorial Garden, where a reception awaited.
“This is a healing endeavor,” he said. “This is how you start living again, after you go through combat.”
Joining the College Park resident on the final leg were about two dozen brethren, including Iraq War veterans who had served with him in 2004 during the battle for Ramadi.
“We lost the most amount of men out of the entire Iraq War in a seven-month deployment to Ramadi,” Hancock said. “There were 33 Marines and a Navy corpsman.”
Dianne Layfield of Fremont was the mother of one of those men, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Travis Layfield, who died April 6, 2004, at Ramadi.
“I heard about this walk and I told him if you come through San Francisco you make sure you look me up,” she said. “He spent about three days with me. I walked the Golden Gate Bridge with him.”
Layfield drove to San Clemente with several friends from the Bay Area so she could walk the final miles within Camp Pendleton with Hancock.
“It’s a healing process for me,” she said. “These are my sons. I’ve adopted every Marine in my life that I can. In every one of them, I see my son. It helps me to heal, and it is so rewarding to know that they are still here for me as well.”
Hancock said one of the most touching experiences of the entire cross-country trek was meeting Layfield.
Veteran Jonathan Hancock walked 5400 miles across the country
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“It was just an overwhelming flood of emotion,” he said. “I just had this vision in my head that she was seeing her son walk home.”
Marvin Endito, a 37-year-old high school teacher from Thoreau, N.M., flew to Southern California to walk the final leg with Hancock.
“I actually got to know him in a very specific way,” Endito said. “Me and him were on a rooftop and they blew it up. They put explosives right under us. His squad leader went down … was dazed, was out of it. Jonathan took charge.”
The bond they formed that day lives on, Endito said.
“I’ve been following him,” Endito said of the walk, which has been chronicled on social media. “I didn’t get to see him on his way out here, but I couldn’t miss this. I flew. I should be in class right now. I couldn’t miss this.”
The group walked San Clemente’s beach trail from North Beach to Park Semper Fi to pose for pictures in front of San Clemente’s Marine Monument. Wayne Eggleston, creator of Park Semper Fi, was there to welcome them.
“I really like San Clemente,” Hancock said, recalling his time at Camp Pendleton. “I’m glad I could end this here.
“It’s therapy,” he added. “It’s getting out, PTSD, dealing with depression and all that stuff. One of the best therapies is being around others who experienced the same thing that you did.”
Hancock said he would return to College Park, wrap up some loose ends and move to North Carolina, where his son lives.
“I’ll just take this second chance at life,” he said.