Bo Drochelman is a patriot.
During the Vietnam War, Drochelman served in the U.S. military as a drill sergeant. He said he knew when he signed up for the military he was risking his life.
But on Sept. 11, 2001, Drochelman saw on the news how thousands of innocent people died.
Military men have Memorial Day, he said, but what did those victims have? Drochelman said he pondered on that thought for about a year, trying to figure out what he could do to honor those who died on the attacks of 9/11.
At around 3 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2002, Drochelman went home from work, changed his clothes, grabbed an American flag and decided to walk from his house near Weidman Road to the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis.
“I wanted to do something for the country and for myself, but I had no idea really of what I was going to do,” Drochelman said. “Very early, I knew it had to be some kind of symbol other people could join in with.”
That day, however, he was alone. His wife looked for him and found him late at night along Clayton Road and asked him to get in the car.
“I said ‘No, I have got to do this,’” Drochelman said. “I have got to dedicate this to these people. My sacrifice has to be this.”
Drochelman admitted the walk was not easy, and the aftermath was painful.
“About two weeks later, my two big toenails turned black and fell off,” he said. “Luckily, they grew back.”
And though it seemed that few took notice on that day, Drochelman said when his kids heard about it, they wanted to make a big deal of it.
“At first, I didn't really believe he had done that and walked that far,” said Brian Drochelman, Bo Drochelman's son. “It was unbelievable. I was definitively proud he had done something.”
Bo Drochelman said his two sons and daughter, along with friends and family, began to spread the word about the walk. After the first year, it became a tradition.
“Ever since that first year I walked alone, the event has grown and grown and grown to the point last year we had about 300 people finish,” Drochelman said.
This year, Drochelman said he hopes the event will draw even more people. Thanks to sponsors and other volunteers, he said hundreds have already signed up. Those interested in testing their walking skills and exhorting their patriotism can show up at 9:11 a.m. Saturday at in Town and Country.
Participants will walk on Clayton Road until they reach the art hill at Forest Park. Then, walkers will go north on Skinker Boulevard, east on Lindell Boulevard, south on Jefferson Avenue and finally east on Market Street until they reach the Arch.
Drochelman said it does not matter whether people can walk the entire 21 miles.
“We don't make people start at the same place because one of our theories is, everybody in America starts at different places in their life,” Drochelman said. “Some people are rich, some people are poor, some people are farmers, some are inner city. But, as Americans, we all finish together. We say, OK, you don't have to walk to whole way. If you want to start at union station and join us for the finish you get just as much qualification as the ones who went the whole way.”
Drochelman said there is one small request for supporters to bring an American flag.
“I want to make sure it's always remembered what happened on this day (Sept. 11),” Drochelman said. “But also I want people around the world, even people who don't like us, to see that if this old man—and I am 64—can walk this distance every year, we have so many more bright, wonderful younger men and women, that you can't stop us. There may be a bump in the road, and you may punch us on the nose one time, but we are going to win the fight.”
For more information on the walk, visit the event’s website at www.marchtothearch.com.
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