In the years since its inception as a federal holiday, Memorial Day has become a marker for the beginning of Summer. We see “Memorial Day sale” signs and posts flood social media, people throw backyard barbecues and attend parades and block parties, and we flock to our local beaches in droves to begin celebrating and enjoying the new season that will definitely be filled with warm, sunny days and new, fun memories. But as with many holidays, sometimes the true meaning of Memorial Day can get lost in all of the marketing.
HOW’s non-profit partner Carry The Load (CTL), founded by Veteran U.S. Navy SEALs, Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley, began as a mission to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day. The organization has since grown to include first responders and has expanded to more than just the one holiday. A quick glance at their Instagram and social media posts shows just how serious they are about honoring the brave men and women who sacrifice their lives for our safety – daily memorial posts commemorate the lives of fallen soldiers and first responders, many times including meaningful anecdotes about each individual. On a day that holds so much meaning for so many people, CTL does a great job of making people stop and think about the reason for such an important observance by asking the simple question, “Who are you carrying?”
What is the true meaning of Memorial Day?
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated during the American Civil War when people would go to cemeteries and visit the tombstones of fallen soldiers. After the Civil War, many cities held observances in May for the families of both Confederate and Union soldiers who had died serving their cause. Flowers, wreaths and flags were placed on and around graves, a tradition that continues today with an annual ceremony where a wreath is placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
When we celebrate observances like this, it’s important to remember why we have the freedom to do so. So many people have sacrificed their lives so that we could have the liberties that we have. When co-founder Clint Bruce came home he felt completely forgotten.
While he was reeling from the loss of several comrades during his tour, his wife encouraged him to do something to memorialize them in some way. He packed his gear and began a traditional military road march, carrying 1 pound of weight for each person he’d lost, in the sweltering heat. “It was hot and it was heavy and it hurt.” Bruce says, “I needed that pain because good pain pushes out bad pain.” He came across several people that day, but one in particular stood out – a Vietnam veteran who would ask him the question that changed everything. “One older gentleman… turned and said something to me, he said ‘Son?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said ‘Who are you carrying?’ That pack got a little bit lighter that day…I’m carrying the sons and daughters of my friends.”
We often forget the mental and emotional toll that extreme and prolonged traumatic experiences can have on those who serve our nation, both here and abroad, as well as the first responders who protect our communities. CTL’s goal is to make sure that we don’t forget the individuals and their families that are still experiencing the impact of those sacrifices daily. Each year, they dedicate May to creating events across the nation that memorialize and celebrate the true meaning of Memorial Day.
The National Relay consists of five routes that cover 20,000 miles across 48 states. The relay team walks and cycles daily throughout the 32-day Memorial May campaign where people of all ages can join to honor and remember fallen heroes.
The Dallas Memorial March:
CTL’s flagship event, the Dallas Memorial March, is the culmination of the National Relay. The Dallas Memorial March is a 2-day Memorial Day weekend event honoring service members and their families for the sacrifices they make.
Rallies honor our nation’s heroes during Memorial May. Rallies along the Relay route include the relay bus and team stopping to celebrate hometown heroes. Other rallies are stand alone events that have grown organically.
You can learn more about Heroes on the Water, including where to find a chapter closest to you, by visiting our website. Please consider joining a HOW Carry the Load team. Let’s show our heroes how much we appreciate all they do this Memorial May, and every day.