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Discharge haunts walk to aid veterans

BY KATIE THISDELL

A Stafford County man walking across the country to honor veterans was less than honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1988, records show.

For the past several months, Leonard “Mac” McQuown has been the face of the Florida-based Project Foot, an organization to help homeless veterans and military families. Last month, a Virginia agency released a warning about Project Foot, saying that required paperwork to verify charitable donations had not been submitted.

McQuown, 50, has touted his record with the Marines as part of a 15,000-mile, five-year walk across the country.

He previously listed an honorable discharge as part of his online biography on projectfoot.org, but told The Free Lance–Star this week that he actually received a bad-conduct discharge. He is still eligible for VA benefits.

Records from the Marine Corps show that during the last year of his active service, he had 200 days in unauthorized absences and confinement.

Donors should know McQuown’s background, said a Marine spokeswoman.

“When you look at this whole picture, I feel like the whole picture wasn’t there for most folks, and I feel like it’s significant enough” to be shared, said Maj. Shawn Haney, public affairs officer for Marine Corps Manpower & Reserve Affairs at Quantico.

In November, McQuown (pronounced “ma-KEW-en”) partnered with Patrick Sherlock, director of Project Foot.

Sherlock said this week he was shocked to learn about McQuown’s discharge.

“Do I think somebody who made a mistake younger in life can do a lot of good? Yes. Do I think that information should be accurate to the public? Yes,” said Sherlock, who says he has loaned $80,000 of his own money to Project Foot, which formed last summer.

Today, one month after a Virginia agency issued a warning to consumers, Sherlock maintains that he is in the process of filing appropriate paperwork with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Until the forms are processed and approved, the state cannot verify that donors’ money will be used for charitable purposes. Any organization, no matter where it is based, must file with the agency before soliciting in the state.

Not registering is a violation.

“You can say you’re anything—we need some proof,” said Elaine Lidholm, communications director for the Office of Consumer Affairs.

State offices were closed yesterday, and will be closed on Monday as well. Sherlock sent a fax yesterday to the state and to the newspaper. He said he mailed a check so the state can process the application next week.

Sherlock blamed the delay in filing paperwork on being sick for the past few weeks.

“We’ll have it in, one way or another. I’ll make it in to the office and have it in,” Sherlock said.

He had also hoped to qualify for an exemption from having to file because he said he raised less than $5,000 in 2011, and does not expect to raise more than that in Virginia in 2012.

Sherlock said he doubts his personal loan will be repaid.

Sherlock said he has many programs for Project Foot, including helping homeless veterans find shelter, sending telephone equipment to families overseas and helping pay for plane tickets for families and veterans.

Meanwhile, McQuown plans to continue walking for veterans.

“Our veterans deserve nothing less,” he said.

McQuown recently began the second phase of his walk, which will take him to all 50 state capitals in five years.

“I believe in what I’m doing—it’s a good thing I’m doing,” he said.

MILITARY BACKGROUND

According to the military personnel file for McQuown, at the end of his second four-year active service period he had four months of unauthorized absence, about two months of confinement and one day “in hands of civil authorities.”

His record also lists desertion. He was discharged in February 1988 after being demoted from sergeant to private first class.

Quantico spokeswoman Haney could not go into further detail about that period of time because it is part of private records.

McQuown said the unauthorized absences and ultimate desertion resulted from problems caused by a fiancée at the time, who he says conned him and ruined his credit.

“I believe your past is your past,” said McQuown. “Everyone makes mistakes.”

After an inquiry by The Free Lance–Star, an updated biography was posted on Project Foot’s website this week.

McQuown said he wants to put the past behind him.

“I was a young kid, I made a dumb mistake,” he said

After a holiday break in the area, he is now heading south to Florida. He says he won’t be back to the Fredericksburg area until the Marine Corps Marathon in October.

McQuown’s walk is featured prominently as a way to spread the name of Project Foot. He had originally called his efforts the Veterans Miracle Network and Operation Walk America, but those merged with Sherlock’s group. It received its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service in July, according to documents on projectfoot.org.

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975

kthisdell@freelancestar.com

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/newsdesk/2012/01/13/discharge-haunts-walk-to-aid-veterans/

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