WIMAUMA, Fla. - Before you see him, the putter of C. Ivan Stoltzfus' John Deere tractor catches your attention.
"It's a 1948 John Deere A, all stocked. I keep it around 14-15 miles an hour," he said.
Since May, he's driven his tractor 5,600 miles across 18 states. Now he's working to spread awareness for veterans and the group Operation Second Chance.
"I would say the tractor brings attention and the camper is our billboard," he said.
Gas fuels his tractor, but it's what's inside his cab that keeps him going.
"Every morning I come in here and I look around and I realize they all sacrificed for my freedom and it keeps you humble,” said Stoltzfus, looking at the challenge coins and photos lining his dash.
They were given to him by strangers; people who lost a loved one serving our country.
"I look down at these and it’s emotional. I think they’re with me and they’re watching over me and they sacrificed so much for my freedom. I will never forget that and I owe them," he said.
U.S. Army Spc. Philip Pannier's parents flagged Stoltzfus down in Illinois.
"They were on their three-wheeled tractor, and they had a large picture of their son who was killed in Afghanistan," he said.
In Pittsburgh, he met Army Sgt. Jermey Jackson.
"He was a sharpshooter in Iraq. He was on patrol and he got hit in his arm and lodged in his MR16," said Stoltzfus.
There, he was given Sgt. Jackson's Purple Heart. He tried giving it back, but Jackson insisted.
"With tears in his eyes, he said, 'Please take this with you.' That brought so much awareness," he said.
On Saturday afternoon, his trip will end at 1 p.m. as he pulls into Der Dutchman restaurant, located at 3713 Bahia Vista St. in Sarasota. A group will be there to welcome him home, but he hopes his trip does the job of making others aware of the needs of veterans and the support that should be given to them after their service.
"We have a responsibility to help families and awareness to those who come back and try and adjust in civil life. As long as I have the last breath in me I’m going to be hoping to bring awareness who are willing to give so much for my freedom," said Stoltzfus.
The public is invited to Stoltzfus' homecoming. To learn more about Operation Second Chance to C.Ivan's journey visit https://operationsecondchance.org/.