Brother reflects on U grad’s tragic walk around the world

Patrick Hayes

Filled with the spirit of the late 1960s and a thirst for adventure not shared by his friends, University student John Kunst, then 24, was searching for a better understanding of life.
Inspired by Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon, John was looking for more than just a job after he graduated. He was aching to do something different.
While visiting John’s 30-year-old brother, Dave, who had the same desire for an adventure, mentioned an idea about walking around the earth.
Thirty years later, Dave Kunst can still remember it as if it were yesterday: the people they met, the places they saw and the fateful night his brother was killed by bandits.
“I didn’t want to go by myself and I knew John would want to go,” Dave said.
With John’s graduation fast approaching, he and his brother became determined to be the first people to walk the earth.
They laid out a world map in John’s Marcy-Holmes apartment, put their finger on their native town of Waseca, Minn., and decided to go east from there, Dave said.
Then the two brothers set a date: June 20, 1970, just five days after John’s graduation.
In planning for the journey, Dave and John contacted Sen. Hubert Humphrey, whom their grandfather had helped years earlier, and told him about the adventure. “(Humphrey) said ‘I like you guys and I think this is a great idea and two Minnesotans doing this is great,'” Dave said.
He gave John and Dave a letter of praise, and sent a letter to every American consulate, embassy and military base on their route, Dave said. In addition, the Waseca mayor gave them a plastic parchment to have every mayor or town head on their trip sign.
$1,000 and a mule
Equipped with a letter, a parchment, a tent and only $1,000, John and Dave thought they could easily get by. Neither of them had been outside the country before, but thought since they were walking, it would be cheap.
“We were very naive,” Dave said.
Before they left, a friend from the University told John and Dave to bring a mule with them. From Waseca to New York, people saw the mule and inquired about their trip, Dave said.
Fascinated by the brothers’ story, people bought them meals and found places for them to stay.
“We hardly cooked a meal all the way from Minnesota to New York City and very seldom put up our tent,” Dave said.
When John and Dave arrived in New York, they touched the ocean and got on a plane to Portugal.
Upon arrival, John and Dave touched the ocean again in Portugal and continued to head east.
During their walk they encountered many unusual sights, but one stuck out in Dave’s mind.
Guided by a woman who spoke very little English in a small Portuguese town, the brothers were taken to a cellar-like chapel where the walls, ceiling and floor were littered with skeletons.
The brothers were shocked by what they saw, and found themselves walking on the bones of nuns and monks who had spent their lives worshiping there.
Ambushed at night
Continuing their walk across Europe — through Spain, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Turkey — the brothers slept in chicken coups and graveyards along the way.
Reporters wrote stories about the two in virtually every town they entered.
As they arrived in Turkey, they were given a wagon to carry their supplies. They continued to march through the desolate land, with little human contact at times.
Then on Oct. 21, 1972, disaster struck.
Dave and John stopped for the night in the Kabul Gorge of Afghanistan. As they set up camp, six Afghans walked toward them.
Following the advice a police chief had given them, Dave shouted at the men to go away. He fired a warning shot with his shotgun, which scared the robbers only momentarily.
Then the bandits opened fire. One shot struck Dave in the chest. As he fell to the ground, he gave his gun to John.
Another shot rang out.
It hit John in the heart, killing him instantly.
To make sure, the bandits shot John a second time at close range in the back of the neck, with Dave lying only a few inches away.
He played dead as the bandits dragged his body around and combed him for goods.
John’s mother, Augusta, received word of the shooting two days later by telegram.
“I was shocked,” she said, “(Being shot) was the last thing I thought of.”
Dave spent 25 days in an Afghan hospital. He then returned home and was treated at the Mayo clinic.
In March, he returned to the Kabul Gorge against police officials’ advice. Not all of the bandits had been captured.
With his other brother, Pete, Dave finished the walk around the world, just as he had promised John in the event something happened to one of them.
And he did, on Oct. 5, 1974, after going through 21 pairs of shoes, four mules and suffering from countless blisters.
He returned to Waseca with six plastic scroll sheets of signatures confirming his walk.
Dave gained a new sense of confidence and appreciation for living in the United States afterward, and he will never regret bringing John with him.
“John might have died on the walk, but he did see more of the world in a way most people never will and more than most people could ever imagine,” Dave said. “He died doing what he loved doing.”
Now Dave conducts lectures at various elementary schools keeping John’s memory alive and invigorating youths with his sense of adventure.
“I love talking about the walk,” he said.
Still filled with the same sense of adventure, he left his California home for Australia on Thursday with his 79-year-old mother and 81-year-old father.
They plan to drive the same route he walked almost 30 years ago.