By Brandy Cruz Sentinel News Editor
“It seems like all I’ve done is ride mountains,” Tom Wendling said. “And the people I carry on my back have allowed me to get to the top of these mountains.”
Carry the Load, a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring Memorial Day by carrying the load and remembering the fallen, made a stop at the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Detachment stables May 23, marking the organization’s third time at the Great Place.
Wendling, a retired firefighter from Dallas, is one of hundreds of people who took time this May to “carry the load” in honor of the sacrifices made by military, veterans, first responders and their Families. Walking or biking, the participants had a name pinned to their backs, the name of a fallen warrior that will never be forgotten.
“We die two deaths – the first is when the breath leaves our body, the second is when our memory leaves someone else’s heart,” Smitty Searles, a Carry the Load participant, said. “We’re here to make sure that memory is never lost.”
The annual event began in Dallas on Memorial Day 2011, when two veteran Navy Seals, Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley, strapped on their old rucksacks and began walking around Whiterock Lake for 20 hours, 11 minutes.
“There was an elderly veteran that asked them, ‘What are you doing?’ They said, ‘I’m carrying the load for my buddies.’ And that’s how the name got started,” Wendling explained.
The following year, the walk began in West Point, New York, and since then, two additional routes were added. The West Coast route begins in Seattle and the Midwest route begins in Minneapolis. All the routes ended their combined 11,500-mile journey on May 26, with a two-day walk around Katy Park in Dallas.
Wendling, who began his journey in Seattle, said on each segment of their 32-day trek, people always joined them, culminating in hundreds of participants. He said they share stories of those they carry on their back, so that they will never be forgotten. He shared that when he puts a name on his back, he makes contact with the surviving Family members.
“Let them know this is not just lip service, this is so important that they know we care,” he said.
People across the greater-Fort Hood area came out to greet the West Coast walkers and riders. They were greeted to a demonstration by the 1st Cav. Div. Horse Det., before the walkers and riders continued their trek to Dallas.
In his remarks, Col. Hank Perry, III Corps chief of staff, stressed the importance of Memorial Day and Carry the Load. He let the participants know how important what they were doing was for the people living and working on Fort Hood.
“It’s very important to all of us that we all remember, that we call take time to reflect on the sacrifice,” Perry said. “That’s what Carry the Load is all about.”
Searles said the event serves as a reminder to everyone about the true meaning of Memorial Day. It also serves as a reminder for the Families to know their fallen heroes are not forgotten.
“America remembers,” Searles said. “I want them (Families) to know that their memories, the memories of their loved ones will absolutely live on. They’ll live on through us … they’ll live on through the stories we share.”
For more information about the Carry the Load organization or to sign up for future relays or other events, visit www.carrytheload.org.