‘Can a Burger Change a Man?’: One man’s 12,142 mile journey to raise money for homeless veterans

Michael Beattie gives a talk about his book in the UConn Barnes and Noble on Storrs Center. (Photo by Hanaisha Lewis/The Daily Campus)

Michael Beattie, local Vietnam War veteran and author of “Can a Burger Change a Man?,” gave a book talk at Barnes and Noble Thursday to discuss his life-changing biking trip around the perimeter of the country.

Beattie was born and raised in Eagleville, Connecticut, and graduated from E.O. Smith in 1967. After high school, he joined the navy during the Vietnam War and eventually became a policeman and a small business owner. One year in his 60s, he and his wife rented an RV and travelled around the country. During this time, Beattie became aware of the amount of hungry Americans living in the West.

One day during this trip, he stopped at a McDonald’s for lunch and saw a homeless veteran sitting outside of the building with a sign that read, “Will work for food.” Beattie ended up buying this man a couple of burgers and asking him how he had ended up in this situation. It turned out that the man was only qualified to work in a factory after the Vietnam War, and after being let go had trouble finding a job and eventually became homeless. Stories like this are unfortunately common among veterans.

After talking to this man, Beattie remembered the time during his 50s when a number of medical problems and spinal surgeries made him bedridden. During this time, he became so desperate to walk again that he promised God he would do something good for mankind in exchange for the ability to walk. Hearing the homeless veteran’s story, as well as witnessing such rampant homelessness during his trip, finally gave him an idea of what he could do to help people. Beattie decided to embark on a solo biking trip around the perimeter of the country to raise money and awareness for homeless veterans.

Once home, Beattie quickly began training, eventually biking 4,000 miles all around Connecticut to get in shape. He partnered up with the food pantry “Feed Our Vets,” bought hundreds of donation boxes and sent dozens of letters to government officials to raise money. In order to fund his trip, which included supplies for his journey and a bike as well as 100 motel rooms, he had to sell his house. Then on March 27, after all his preparation, he started biking out of Eagleville and down toward Florida.

“I think it’s crazy how he went across the country on a bike to go and help people and how he sold his house,” Mark Capel, a seventh-semester actuarial science major, said.

During the 152 day, 12,142 mile journey, Beattie talked to thousands of people. He heard the stories of hundreds of homeless veterans and came in contact with some of the poorest people in America. He biked through all sorts of terrain and weather, including 110 degree deserts, tornadoes and mountains. There were times when his knees ached, his backside blossomed with painful sores and a hematoma bloomed on his leg. But whenever he felt discouraged from the pain and the hundreds of miles he still had to go, he would meet people who truly cared about helping the vets, who would give anything to help him. He called these people his angels and said that they helped motivate him to keep going.

By the time Beattie reached home, he had raised $15,000 to feed the veterans. Luckily, media attention caused an influx of donations after his return, and soon he had enough money to buy over half a million meals.

“Hungry veterans don’t always get the help they need, and this guy is trying to make a big difference,” Capel said. “Hopefully he gets more attention.”

Beattie’s book is based on a combination of his blog on Facebook that he updated daily during his journey and his memory, and is well worth the read. His inspiring trip helped to feed thousands of veterans and spread awareness to thousands more.

“I think it’s very cool,” Sarah Yu, a third-semester economics major, said. “Personally I think I was astonished when I heard that he spent 152 days to complete his bike trip. During this trip… that accident happened, but he still decided to complete his trip. So I think the book is really amazing, so I want to buy this book.”


Rebecca Maher is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rebecca.l.maher@uconn.edu.