SALISBURY — As the rain poured down Thursday, Lisa Groves got out of her Jeep SUV and took shelter inside BeBop’s Diner on U.S. 29.
Even though she went inside, her Jeep is covered with decals that keep on broadcasting her message:
“Disabled U.S. Army Lady Vet on Board,” one reads.
Another explains, “I’m Driving to 49 U.S. States, Mexico, Canada.”
Another encourages drivers to “Honk!”
And there’s the name and phone number for Groves’ charity, Veteran’s Connection, Inc.
Her mission: Provide whatever her fellow veterans need.
Clean socks and underwear? Hand-warmers? Help with applying for benefits? Someone to talk to?
Groves said she’s got ’em all, and more.
“This is my office,” Groves said, as she showed off the supplies she carries, along with her portable copying machine.
Sometimes, she said, it’s also where she sleeps.
“What I’ve been through has made me stronger,” Groves said. “I’m a disabled veteran. I have spurs in my ankles, I have a bad back, I had PTSD … but I don’t let none of that get me down.”
Groves drove through 48 states on her last trip, which ended in 2011.
On her current trip, which started Sunday, she hopes to visit every state except Hawaii, and both neighboring countries besides.
Groves said some U.S. veterans in Mexico and Canada have reached out to her, who left because they were disillusioned with the treatment they received here.
The native of Dunbar, W.Va., has been written about in the national press. As she freely admits, her story has been controversial.
Sitting at BeBop’s over sweet tea, Groves talked about her past.
She told about how a hot-dog vending stand she operated back home was the target of what she believes were racially motivated attacks.
She talks openly of the things she said have motivated her: being sexually assaulted once while in the Army, and a second time in civilian life while working with veterans.
Groves also said she spent a number of years homeless — living in shelters and traveling — while caring for her four children as best she could.
But, Groves said several times during the interview, “I don’t want pity.”
She gives credit to God for inspiring her to travel across America and help veterans however she can.
Along the way, Groves said, “I’ve been regaining trust.”
Groves said she travels without a set itinerary. Her philosophy is also spelled out in a decal on her van: “With God as my guide.”
She has been taking life day by day in the meantime.
She visited veterans at a nursing home Thursday. Today, Groves said, she hopes to meet with local veterans’ services organizations and help out any homeless or needy vets she can find.
She doesn’t always wait for them to come to her.
“They call me the crazy veteran,” Groves said.
She described going down a river bank to speak to homeless vets, of going to shelters and truck stops at night — places she said homeless vets often gather.
Groves said she asks what they need, and tries to get it for them.
“Some people give donations, and I get some of the things myself,” Groves said.
She keeps plastic bins full of clothes, non-perishable food, books, toiletries and supplies in her SUV.
Back home, she said, she gets calls for assistance with rent, transportation to medical services and sometimes just someone who wants to talk, and to be heard.
The trips she’s made to promote her organization and to raise awareness have come with hardships.
“I’ll miss a meal or give up a hotel room for a veteran,” she said.
“We don’t consider ‘veterans’ to be a status or a number,” Groves said.
Instead, she said she tries to work “24/7” for those who served.
“They wrote a blank check to this country with their service,” Groves said.
She also describes how she’s gotten involved in cases of veterans who have been denied benefits, trying to advocate for them.
And, Groves said, she’s driven hundreds of miles to attend the funerals of veterans she has known.
Her favorite veterans to meet, Groves said, are those who served in World War II.
Seeing them “just puts a joy to my heart,” Groves said.
Groves’ phone number — and she’s glad to have it in the paper — is 304-206-8282.
She plans to return to Rowan County on her way out of North Carolina, around June 17.
She hopes local residents will consider making donations to help veterans.
But, above all, she wants the praise and credit to go to them.
“I don’t want to be nobody’s hero,” Groves said. “The veterans are the heroes.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.