DANVILLE, Va. — On April 29, Sam Winstead donned his “Sam’s Ride for Peace” T-shirt, strapped on his helmet and headed out on a 350-mile bicycle ride to Washington, D.C.
It was the second year in a row the 88-year-old Leasburg, N.C., resident had set out on this journey, his effort to spread the message that war is not the answer for the world’s problems, he said.
This year, Winstead capped his mission off with a trip to Hiroshima, Japan, where Rotary International President Sakuji Tanaka had organized one of three peace forums.
That trip was harrowing for Winstead. He said he knew when he heard about the forum, he had to attend — but hostile feelings toward the Japanese he fought in as a member of the First Marine Division during World War II remained.
Winstead arrived in Peleliu — a small island in the Pacific nation of Palau — on Sept. 15, 1944, just in time for the Battle of Peleliu.
“We had a 50-percent casualty rate in 15 days,” Winstead said. “When you lose friends and buddies that fast, it does something to you forever … I’ve been told it was the hardest-fought and biggest loss a Marine division had ever had.
“We were supposed to take Peleliu in 72 hours; in 72 hours, we were still on the beach,” Winstead concluded.
Winstead followed up that battle by being stationed in Okinawa for 85 days, another experience that left him bitter about the Japanese as war in general.
When he came home, Winstead resumed his normal civilian life and tried to forget the war, going so far as to never watch war movies or eat in a Japanese restaurant.
“When you face something like that, you want to get away from anything that reminds you of it,” Winstead said
But he has come to realize that wars in places around the globe continue to affect his family and friends and resolved to do something about it.
This year, like last year, he rode with two others and made stops along the way to be fed and housed by supporters of the ride — and thought about his upcoming trip to Japan.
“In a letter to President Tanaka, I leveled with him about my war experiences and my hostile feelings toward Japan for the past 70 years. I also explained that he had opened a door for me and I needed to be there in Hiroshima and to shake his hand,” Winstead said. “President Tanaka wrote me a very nice letter, welcoming me to the peace forum.”
Winstead spoke at the forum, he said, and was well received by the Japanese Rotarians. He said he hopes to recruit Rotary International as a partner in his quest for peace.
“Rotary has carefully steered clear of political controversies in its 100-plus years of existence,” Winstead said. “I believe Rotary has the tools and numbers to attack the ‘war virus.’”
The idea to spread his idea by riding a bicycle to the nation’s capitol each year came about when he heard of the 1986 Great Peace March that started in California and ended in Washington, D.C.
“When I decided to do this, I hadn’t ridden a bike five miles in 70 years,” Winstead said. “But I thought it would be better than walking.”
The bottom line for Winstead is that there simply is no need to settle differences through warfare.
“World War II was enough war for everyone,” Winstead said. “It was supposed to be the war to end all wars.”
To find out more about “Sam’s Ride for Peace,” visit www.ncveteransforpeace.org.