Walking is his forte, praying for peace is his message
Tucked away in a corner in the dining room at Atria Darien, childhood friend Joe Ross, 72, and friend Clarice Flagg, 96, joined Forte, 70, of Stamford, for lunch as he took a break from walking from Boston to New York City.
If you ask Forte how long he's been walking, though, he'll tell you he's been going at it since the age of 1.
"I thought it was a good idea," Forte said.
During his walk, he wears a navy blue V-neck windbreaker which has "pray for peace" written in large white letters on the front and back.
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The Pray for Peace walk, which started from the Old North Church in Boston on Aug. 31, is being done to remember the bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15, which killed three and injured more than 260 others; the shootings at Sandy Hook in Newtown, which left 28 dead and 2 injured; and the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 people died at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.
"I've got three children, six grandchildren -- soon to be seven and eight. It's great, I do nothing and they keep coming," Forte said. "And I'd like the world to be a better place for them."
While talking about his walk, Forte was able to stop long enough to order dessert.
"What kind of baked fruit pies do you have?" Forte asked Donna Gasper, the waitress who was taking care of the table. She listed off different pies -- blueberry; apple and more.
With constrained excitement on his face -- normally seen with young children -- Forte ordered.
Donna asked if he would like the pie warmed.
"Oh, yes," Forte said.
"Ice cream on the side?" she asked.
"Definitely," he replied enthusiastically, jokingly asking for Gasper's number as well.
When dessert was brought out -- rainbow sherbert for Flagg and the pie for Forte -- talk of the walk paused again.
"You wanted apple, right?" Gasper said as she placed the pie and ice cream in front of Forte.
"It's perfect," Forte said with a wide smile, even though he had ordered blueberry. "Should we thank God again for this food?" Forte asked leaning toward Atria resident Flagg, who already had eaten a spoonful of her sherbet.
Forte said he meets great people along the way, but for him, it's the minor things he loves to experience.
"One of the inspiring things when you're walking is when you meet someone whose got a relative in Afghanistan or Iraq and they say their relative would greatly appreciate what I'm doing and they appreciate what I'm doing," Forte said.
He recalled speaking with a woman, after an article about him appeared in a local paper in northern Connecticut, who asked if there was anything she could do for Forte, to which he replied, "pray." Forte then asked if there was anything he could do for the woman. She was emotional, but asked that Forte pray for her mother, who was moving into an assisted-living facility.
"Peace is good," Ross said, "but Al has a physical effect on people."
Ross recalled stopping in Moonriver, Pa., while Forte was on a different walk, and the two spotted a police officer cleaning his car around 4:30 p.m. at a gas station. Forte makes it a point to talk to police officers and firefighters.
"I turn around and the cop had his hands on Al's shoulders," Ross said. Forte explained that the police officer had recently become the force's chaplain.
"So I said, `I've got a job for you then. Bless me; that's your job,' " Forte said.
Forte has gone on walks to spread his message before. In 2008, he walked 1,000 miles from New York City to Chicago; in 2010, from Boston to New York; and in 2011, from the Pentagon in Virginia to ground zero in lower Manhattan.
Forte, a retired office manager of his son's company, Allstar Paving and Sealing, laughs while telling stories of the people he's met and the experiences he's had.
Forte said he has been a practicing Catholic all his life ("I'm just practicing, though").
"I really believe that everything we do can be a prayer," Forte said. "This walk can be a prayer. All you need to do is say "God, it's a prayer. Be with me on the walk' and that counts, and I get double credit."
While walking through Boston during this trip, Forte stopped at both bomb sites. He also stopped again in Newtown.
"It (Newtown) looked like a normal town now," Forte said. "You would never know that that happened there. What's a shame about that is that's what happens to us over and over again. There's tragedy, we get over it, we forget about it, and they happen again."
Forte keeps cards with him while he walks that he gives to people with whom he speaks that show soldiers praying with text that reads, "They pray for peace, will you."
When Forte gets closer to home, Ross, who drops Forte off in the morning and picks him up at night, drives him to his home in Stamford to sleep and spend the weekends. Forte said he comes up with grand plans for the weekend when he's not walking, but that by the time he gets home and sits, it's hard to get back up again.
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