ST. PAUL, Minn. — While serving as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam, Thomas J. Schepers was shot through the leg and told he would never walk again. Schepers, of South St. Paul, who despite his injury went on to run across the country to bring attention to veterans issues, died this week. He was 67.
Awarded both the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service in the Vietnam War, his dedication to the military and its veterans went beyond fighting in a war that claimed nearly 60,000 American lives.
In the summer of 2000, the 54-year-old Schepers ran from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to Washington, D.C. -- more than 3,300 miles -- in support of the National World War II Memorial. He arrived in Washington on Veterans Day after a grueling five months.
Schepers did it carrying American and POW/MIA flags on a 10-foot pole with a 10-pound weight strapped to his waist, the weight a symbol of veterans' emotional weight.
"Mr. Schepers' heroic story is a tribute to the will and determination of our nation's veterans," U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum told the House of Representatives on May 21, 2001.
He did all this after being told walking might be out of his reach while recovering from a leg wound suffered in Vietnam.
"Mr. Schepers' tribute to this great American generation is a welcome sight, and one that all Americans must not take for granted.," McCollum said in her tribute.
But his running didn't stop there.
Over the course of his life, he logged more than 3,500 miles running for Korean War and Vietnam War veterans. He was a regular fixture anywhere there was running to be done. He completed the Twin Cities Marathon 18 times.
A registered nurse, he devoted his life to caring for the country's veterans. He was a regular sight at regional veterans gatherings and always had time for those who served.
"When I worked with Tom in ICU at St. Joe's, he would always say 'this man is a VIP' when one of our patients was a veteran. My dad was a (veteran) also and (it) was fun to share stories with him. I miss him and his Marine coffee mug," said Donna Lancaster on his obituary guestbook.
He is survived by wife, Linda; two brothers, three children and three grandchildren.
He will be interned at 1:15 p.m. Monday at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.