DALLAS — The applause went on for several minutes as those who'd been on an all-night trek came off the Katy Trail. It was the end of a two-day journey which brought complete exhaustion... and total emotion.
"Very emotional," said George Buttler, choking back tears. He was a firefighter in the Mid-Cities for more than 30 years. He and his wife, Kristi, held hands as they left Reverchon Park after the closing ceremonies of the 2014 Carry the Load Memorial March.
"It makes you feel proud and exhausted," Kristi said.
Carry the Load means people spend one day carrying the load that those who serve and protect carry each and every day.
There is a national relay, with a group of people walking from West Point in New York to Dallas. They arrived at Reverchon Park Sunday.
Then, thousands of people joined the march, many spending the next 20 hours and 14 minutes walking a course along the Katy Trail. Some walked the entire time, but most took a few hours off.
The Buttlers said they walked for about seven or eight hours.
"You get tired out here on the trail. Then you see people walking with a prosthetic leg... or in a wheelchair... and you're like, 'OK. Suck it up, keep going.' Because if they can do it, surely we can do it," Kristi Buttler said.
One of those walking with visible scars was Jake Schick. He has a prosthetic leg and a badly injured leg. He was hurt while he was a U.S. Marine in Iraq.
"It's stinging a bit right now," he admitted Monday morning, just as the walk was about to end. "But that's what it's all about. It's motivation. This is for my fallen brothers and sisters; it's why we do it."
That's just what Brent Homan said, too. He was injured in Iraq when he was serving in the Army. He lost his right eye, suffered a brain injury, and still has scars on his right arm.
"I'm really tired right now, but I pushed myself to go further than I thought I could go," he said. "I did 28 miles ... that voice in me said, 'keep going.' I'm not here for me; I'm here for the soldiers that have been here before me."
Many of the walkers physically carry pieces of people who carry the load by serving and protecting the public on a daily basis. Carry the Load benefits veterans, current military members, first responders, and their families.
"We're walking for several friends of ours who have family members that didn't make it back... three of them," George Buttler said. He and his wife had photos and signs on their backs of three fresh-faced members of the U.S. military who gave their lives.
They also have a son in the Marine Corps and another in the Army
"And the guys we're carrying on our back, they either went to high school with, or served with them," Kristi said of her sons.
Homan walked for one of his buddies who didn't make it home. "I'm carrying Jose Velez. He died in 2004 in Fallujah," he said.
Organizers estimate about 20,000 people took part in the events in Dallas. They raised a little less than $1.1 million.
As the walk came to a close, firefighters sounded a bell at a closing ceremony. It is a symbolic way to say goodbye.
Memorial Day is about those who laid down their lives, and Schick choked up thinking about them.
"It's still tough," he said. "I've got a lot of faces in my mind, but we're doing it right. We're here... this is what it's all about."