Only on 7: San Jose veteran honors fallen comrade by hiking Appalachian Trail

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A San Jose veteran is home after an extreme journey to honor a fallen comrade. He hiked the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in memory of his friend who died in Afghanistan back in 2008.

It was a life-affirming trek that's going to make a big difference for a lot of veterans.

Veteran Marine Corporal Don Nguyen reflected on a hot October day in Afghanistan that turned tragic. "Definitely heartwrenching, that's for sure, but it's just part of the job description, you know what I mean," he said.

Nguyen's fellow unit member, Corporal Jason Karella, was killed in 2008 when his Humvee rolled over after being struck by an IED.

"When you rely on somebody to watch your back, you eventually build a strong bond between each other and there's nothing that can be compared to that," Nguyen said.

This spring, Nguyen took time off from teaching middle school math and science to hike the Appalachian Trail with another veteran, doing it in their friend's memory while trying to raise awareness about the issues many veterans face when they return home.

"The war does not end when you get out of the military. Veterans come home and have a lot of issues like PTSD depression and feeling like they're not part of a society," he said.

Nguyen finished his travels over the Labor Day weekend, a 2,200-mile journey that took nearly six months.

He posted photos to social media along the way,

"Whether it's your knees, your feet, your ankles and some days you're like, you're wondering, hmm, why are my thumbs hurting, you know? Random stuff like that," Nguyen recalled.

He hiked through the wind, rain, sun and snow in this remarkable tribute to a lifelong brotherhood.

"You shouldn't quit on life cause there's a lot to live for. What does it say to them when I quit the trail, you know, so that kept me going," he said.

Nguyen has helped raise more than $11,000 for Higher Ground, a nonprofit organization rehabilitation program for military veterans.

Click here for information on how to donate.
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