Man swims length of Mississippi River to raise awareness of Gold Star families

Published 10:06 am Tuesday, November 3, 2015

On an overcast and damp Monday evening the people of Vicksburg gathered to welcome Navy veteran Chris Ring to town as a stop on his journey swimming the entire length of the Mississippi River.

His goal is to inform the public about Gold Star families and who they are, families who have lost a loved one in service to the country. Many people had never heard of the group until the time came for them to join it. Donna Bagwell, and husband Kelly, of Pontotoc had to Google the organization after their Marine son LCpl. Marc Lucas Tucker’s funeral 10 years ago.

“The night after our son’s funeral they had a memorial service and they presented me with a Gold Star flag, and I went back and I sat down and I said, ‘This is really nice, but I don’t know what it is,’” Bagwell said.

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Since then she has been active with the group forming a tight bond with mothers across the country and locally.

“We have several in our area that we would get together every two or three months and just have lunch and talk about the boys,” Bagwell said.

Gold Star families set up a support system of understanding for each other through their loss.

Leonard and Sandra Scardino from Hattiesburg lost their son who was in the Army National Guard just over a year ago in a training accident. They were proud to drive the five hour round-trip in one afternoon to meet Ring.

“This man is honoring our son and all others that have fallen. If he’s going to do this, we wanted to meet him,” Leonard Scardino said.

“It’s a privilege just to meet him and be able to thank him face to face,” Sandra Scardino said.

Ring is meeting his goal by all of the attention his journey is getting. He never expected to meet nearly 190 families on his trip down the Mississippi, but he has welcomed the opportunity because it’s what the adventure is all about.

“The real goal is to meet as many families as possible on this swim,” Ring said. “It’s not to be an achievement, it’s just an avenue to really connect with families and raise awareness.”

He has found it humbling to make the emotional connections and hear their families’ stories. The rain has slowed him down a bit, but his spirits are still high. He must have been exhausted, but he showed no signs of fatigue.

“It takes it’s toll, but it’s why I’m here to really connect with families and learn about their loved ones,” Ring said.

He has a team with one guy in a kayak in front of him while he swims and another guy in a motorboat behind him keeping him safe and alert to all that is going on in the waters.

Ring started in early June and plans to finish at the Gulf in mid-November. He will be the first American and the second person to ever conquer this feat.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. welcomed Ring with a proclamation from the city in honor of his noble cause. Two girls in antebellum dress and the sounds of Bud Carson and Mark Doyle playing blues music welcomed Ring to town.

Follow the last few legs of Ring’s journey on the Legacy Alive Facebook page.

Legacy Alive gear will be sold at Peterson’s, 1400 Washington St., through Thursday.