COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — One group on a cross-country mission is encouraging Americans to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Carry The Load, a Dallas, Texas-based advocacy group for military members and veterans, arrived in Columbus Tuesday as part of its 10th-annual National Relay that kicked off on April 28.
Over the course of 32 days, across 20,000 miles, participants will walk for service members and first responders who have lost their life serving our country.
“We need to make sure we’re respecting their memory and keeping their name alive, really,” Jeremiah Kincaid, a volunteer with Carry The Load, said.
While many Americans spend Memorial Day weekend at pool parties or cooking out with family and friends, it’s for that shared purpose that these volunteers walk.
“I ask every person to carry for someone on their back, and I want to hear their story,” Tom Wendling, a former Dallas police officer and volunteer with Carry The Load, said.
For Wendling, that person this year is former Columbus firefighter Frank Duff Jr., who passed away after contracting COVID-19 while on duty last September, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
“It’s very important to me to reach out to the community out here and carry for someone who’s gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Wendling said.
Kincaid, a U.S. veteran himself, said he walks for those he served with and the families he’s met along the way.
“I remember stories from doing the Dallas walk four years ago — stories I heard that just don’t go away, you remember them forever,” Kincaid said.
“How do you stand there without breaking, without tearing up? To talk with a Gold Star mother who’s buried three of her kids, it’s tough.”
In additional to emotional support, Carry The Load has raised nearly $33 million since 2011 to help with recovery services, like counseling, adaptive training, service dogs, suicide prevention, job placements, home improvements and scholarships for children of the fallen, according to its website.
This year, Carry The Load hopes to raise another $2 million towards those services, existing to unite the country and fulfill one common goal.
“We need to make sure we remember that people did sacrifice their lives so we could get together, have that day off,” Kincaid said.
Carry The Load’s visit to Columbus ended with a rally at the National Veteran’s Memorial and Museum. The National Relay will culminate on May 29.