A long road ended for Michael Sippola, and a new one is about to begin for Karen Hattamer.
Sippola concluded a cross-country hike Wednesday at the grave of Hattamer’s husband, Stephen, a Spokane native killed in Iraq on Christmas Day 2003. Sippola’s long walk and fund-raising efforts are helping make Stephen Hattamer’s goal of a permanent home for his family come true.
“My husband’s dream was to build a house for his family once he got out of the military,” said Karen Hattamer. “We all want a place to call home.”
Sippola walked nearly the entire breadth of the country over the past seven months, carrying a 60-pound pack, slogging through ditches and trails, and eventually succumbing to back pain in Wyoming.
He was “leapfrogged ahead” a bit, and walked the final 15 miles on Wednesday. He wound up walking more than 2,000 miles, and his efforts helped raise more than $20,000 toward the construction of a home for Hattamer and her three children in Glinn, Mich., where they’ve been living in military housing.
“Before this, the longest hike I did was 20 miles, and that was by mistake,” Sippola said. “Me and my friends got lost. … Honestly, it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”
Sippola had a large welcoming committee at St. Joseph Cemetery on Wednesday afternoon. Karen and her daughter, Alyssa, had come from Michigan, and several family members from the Spokane area were on hand, as well.
Stephen Hattamer is buried alongside his father in the family plot. His brothers, sisters and other relatives hugged Sippola and wept in Stephen’s memory, but many also saw it as a joyous occasion.
“It’s been a journey for everybody who’s been attached to the project,” Karen Hattamer said. “There’s comfort, there’s grief, and a whole lot of love.”
“Everybody’s always come here and cried, but today we were all able to laugh,” she said.
Stephen Hattamer was an Army reserve staff sergeant serving in Baquba, Iraq, when he was killed in a mortar attack Dec. 25, 2003. He was standing outside a tent where soldiers were making calls home for the holidays when he was hit. He and another soldier were killed, and six others were injured.
Hattamer, 43, served 25 years in the military, including nine in the Army and Marine reserves. For his family, that meant a lot of moving and a lot of living in base housing.
After Hattamer’s death, Sippola and his father, Mark – a close friend of Stephen’s and pastor of the Lutheran church the Hattamers attended – were talking about ways they could help the family. The idea of a cross-country walk was one way, though people in Gwinn were already pitching in – donating land, labor, materials and money, Mark Sippola said.
Michael Sippola started his walk in November in South Carolina, camping and staying with people along the way. Problems with his back and his feet dogged him for much of the way.
“I’ve been having problems with my back since Alabama,” he said.
The modular home that is being built for the Hattamers in Glinn is nearing completion, with final finishing touches and interior work being done now. But the fund-raising is still under way, in hopes of helping retire the family’s debt.
Michael Sippola said that he wanted to make his walk in support of Stephen Hattamer, but also for all Americans in military service. Stephen’s family said they hope that his efforts help remind people about the toll the war is taking and the sacrifices being made by those serving overseas.
“We’re all in our little worlds,” said Mary Henson, Stephen’s sister. “We’re walking around free and safe. But they’re not.”