Ex-Navy SEAL swimming Mississippi River for fallen heroes' families

On this Veteran's Day, the nation honors and celebrates those who served and sacrificed in our military. One Navy veteran is doing it a unique way -- by swimming the entire length of the Mississippi River, reports CBS Sports Network's Dana Jacobson.

Chris Ring spends six to eight hours a day, six days a week, swimming down the Mississippi River. At his journey's end, he will go down as the first American to swim the entire Mississippi, but he says it's those families and the memory of their loved ones that made it happen.

Though he's a former Navy SEAL, Chris Ring doesn't consider himself a strong swimmer.

But every day except Sundays - since the sixth of June - this decorated combat veteran zips up, jumps into the Mississippi River and proves otherwise.

"There's always that little chill going up the back," Ring said. "Being comfortable in the water and swimming a long distance. Those are two different things."

Ring, who served for 10 years, said he did not want to put the service behind him. He started his mission five years ago to bring attention to the families of the fallen.

"I couldn't imagine anything better than to really raise awareness and honor these fallen heroes," he said.

Ring's swim was inspired by a cross-country hike last year by army veteran Mike Viti, whose "Legacies Alive" organization offers support for "Gold Star Families -- the survivors of fallen soldiers, like Jenny Smith and her husband Eddie.

Smith's son, Marine staff Sgt. Jason Rogers, was killed in action four and a half years ago in Afghanistan. Ring was curious how Jason lived.

"He loved the Marine Corps. A very friendly young man and he loved basketball and he loved Transformers," said Smith, describing him as a "kid at heart."

"It's very moving learning about their loved ones, how they were growing up and who they were as a person," said Ring. "These are the stories that people like to avoid, but these are the conversations that need to happen because it gives families the opportunity to say their loved one's name again... That's what they fear most is the day that people forget."

Ring has met nearly 200 Gold Star family members so far. Many sign the kayak that leads him down the river. Two kayaks are now filled with messages to the fallen.

"The kayak is always in front of me, kind of guiding me through the water so whenever I'm in the water I can look up and see that kayak and know that what I'm doing and how difficult it is that they paid the ultimate sacrifice," Ring said.

But swimming the Mississippi comes with a physical toll.

"You know just the general toll on the body," Ring said. "And the sickness goes you know it's not necessarily the cleanest river. So no matter how much I try not to, some water gets in, you know. And then you feel a little bit of sickness day to day."

Apart from not being the cleanest or clearest of rivers, the murky river is full of obstacles. There are tidal pools, shifting currents and debris, plus boats and barges to navigate. "When you get out there, you never know what you're going to expect. So no day is the same," Ring said.

It's been 157 days since he started where the Mississippi River begins in Minnesota's Lake Itasca and ends in the Gulf of Mexico. The 2,350-mile swim will go through 10 states.

Chris hit the 2,000-mile mark Tuesday in Natchez, Mississippi. At a pace of 14 to 20 miles per day, he expects to finish the journey in early December.

Ring said the toughest part about his journey is the mental challenges of meeting families day to day and hearing their stories. But he never thought about quitting.

"If I'm having a terrible day on the river, it's going to be over in however many hours, but these families have to live with their pain and suffering and their burdens for the rest of their lives," said Ring. " I feel more than privileged to be able to do it. It is truly an honor to do it."