HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Puttering down the street in Hillsborough County at 15 mph on a John Deere tractor, you’ll find C. Ivan Stoltzfus.
Through the nonprofit organization Operation Second Chance, Stoltzfus has made the slow journey through 18 states in the last six months to raise awareness and collect money for veterans and first responders.
“I started thinking how I take my freedom for granted. I was never in the military but I thought, I need to somehow give back to those who are willing to sacrifice for me. For my freedom,” said Stoltzfus.
The almost 6,000-mile journey in the vintage 1948 tractor named Johnabilt began in Pennsylvania.
“I might stop at a gas station or along the road and veterans, police or even the public has stopped and they want to know about the mission. That gives me a chance to share about Operation Second Chance,” he said.
Operation Second Chance is dedicated to providing emergency assistance to our nation’s wounded, injured and ill veterans.
Stoltzfus drove each mile, highway and backroad by himself but tells 8 On Your Side he was never really alone. In his Peterbilt cab, you’ll find pictures and mementos of fallen heroes – along with a Purple Heart.
“Families gave me these pictures there, all of them are deceased except Jeremy Jackson, he is from Pittsburgh. He gave me a little box. He said ‘I have a gift for you.’ I open it up and it’s a Purple Heart,” Stoltzfus said. “I said ‘Jeremy, I can’t take this. You earned this.’ With tears in his eyes, he said ‘Please take this along.’ That has brought so much awareness across this great nation.”
Stoltzfus, who currently lives in Sarasota, plans to end his journey there this weekend.
You can learn more about Operation Second Chance on the organization’s website.