Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley paid homage to Veterans Day on Wednesday by calling a College Park man and former Marine who is walking across the country to honor the comrades he lost in Iraq.
Jonathan Hancock, a 32-year-old man who left the Marines in 2009 after seven deployments, began the walk to California on Sept. 11. O'Malley caught up with him in Pembroke, Ga., about 35 miles west of Savannah, and the two spoke for a few minutes.
"It was really a stand up thing for a person who's running for office to take time out of his day to call me," said Hancock, who declined to say whether he is leaning toward any candidate for president next year.
Hancock, who attained the rank of staff sergeant, served with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, based at Camp Pendleton, and was repeatedly deployed to Iraq and Africa. He expects to reach California sometime close to the general election next year.
O'Malley, who has struggled to gain attention in the race for the Democratic nomination, unveiled a series of proposals on veterans issues this week. His broad goals include ending veteran unemployment by 2020 and also providing clean records for service members discharged because of their sexual orientation.
Hancock said he struggled to return to civilian life after more than eight years in the Marines, and had attempted suicide.
"This wasn't a political thing," Hancock said of the walk, adding that he did not alert media to it when it began. "This was me doing this because it's something I wanted to do -- to clear my head, really, and to get everything straight. I was in a nasty, dark place."
Hancock was featured in a local television news broadcast in South Carolina, an early presidential primary state where O'Malley has been working to build momentum. Hancock said he believes an O'Malley staffer saw the story and took note of the fact that he is from Maryland.
O'Malley was able to connect with Hancock through another Marine who worked on a campaign veteran's task force. That person had served with Hancock.