While some Americans will spend Memorial Day barbecuing, relaxing at the beach or splashing in a pool, thousands of men and women carrying the names of fallen soldiers will conclude a 31-day relay across a total of 6,200 miles.
These volunteers have spent the month of May carrying the names of soldiers who did not come home sewn onto backpacks. Organized by non-profit “Carry the Load,” the 31-day trip began in Seattle for a 4,100 mile West Coast route and in West Point, New York for a 2,100-mile route.
The trip concludes when the two routes meet in Dallas for a march on Memorial Day.
Last year, the event raised more than $2 million from donations and sponsorships that went to building homes for veterans, adaptive training for those who came home injured, support for mental health programs and more. The goal this year was to raise $2.5 million.
Retired Army Captain Glen Dare is one of the people participating, walking from Boston to New York CIty independently. He’d walked 20 hours, through the night, from West Point to New York City, when NBC News caught up with him.
“It is not just one day a year that we think about them or honor them, we think about them all the time,” he said as he walked through the city.
One of the names Dare carries on his pack is of Army Major Stuart Wolfer, who he considered a friend and mentor. Wolfer was killed during a 2008 mortar attack in Baghdad, Iraq.
“It makes you wonder, why did I get to come back?” Dare said. “So my purpose now is to carry their mission on.”
“I burst into tears. It was mind boggling. It was awesome,” said Esther Wolfer, the major’s mother.
“His legacy lives on,” she added. “Say his name. His legacy lives on. Remember, educate.”
Now thousands are working hard to remember and educate others about the importance of Memorial Day, as they make their way to Dallas for a march that others won’t soon forget.
“When I do the march in Dallas, actually, I wear full combat load,” Dare said. “I wear, basically, 85 pounds’ worth of body armor and ammunition to simulate what, you know, my brothers and sisters died in.”
“But that weight is not very much It’s the emotional load,” he added. “It’s knowing the fact that I’m alive, and they’re not.”
Photo: AMP/NBC news