DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Seven years ago, two veteran Navy SEALS began a new mission: They wanted to show the true meaning of Memorial Day.
So they formed the organization called Carry The Load and began a Memorial March to honor the fallen.
During their eighth annual event this year, co-founder Stephen Holley of Dallas said, “Watch that processional come in and tell me that doesn’t tug on your heart strings.”
Among the marchers this year, 15-year-old Kara Black, who held photos of three family friends who died serving. “It’s the least I could do for them is honor their name.”
Black has come to Dallas’ Reverchon Park with her grandmother for the past four years from Huntsville, Alabama.
She walked 37 miles, the most of anyone under 18.
While she won an award for her efforts, she says it’s the cause that’s so dear to her heart and her grandmother’s. “It’s a third generation if I go into the military. And so I just have to keep that alive. And it means a lot of her because her husband passed away and he was in the military, she was in the military, and my mom was in the military. My parents met in the military. It’s just a huge part of my family.”
Since Carry The Load began in 2011, the message has spread to more than 60 cities in 25 states.
A relay from two cities, one from Seattle, the other from West Point, New York begins in early May, and makes its way to Dallas, where it converges and leads into the march Sunday and ended Monday.
Participants raise money for 30 nonprofit organizations, including the group Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, that help retired military and first responders.
Sgt. Major Lance Nutt founded the group based in Northwest Arkansas, which also has a chapter in North Texas.
He says they try to assist men and women during their transition to civilian life. “That’s when poor life choices happen. That’s when depression seeps in, drugs, alcohol, you name it. For us, it’s getting them off that couch.”
As for Stephen Holley, he says they’ve raised more than $20 million.
It’s more than they ever imagined when they first began as a way to pay tribute to their friends who they lost.
Holley says while they started it for the 1% who have served in the military since the 9-11 attacks, “What we didn’t anticipate was the 99 percent and them needing it and how much they wanted to have a meaningful Memorial Day experience.”