MEMPHIS — Ten years ago in June, a soldier named Matt Stovall came home from Iraq for some rest and relaxation and to spend time with his family.
That month a decade ago, his son Walker was a toddler and learning to talk.
"When Matt came home for those two weeks, Walker looked at him and said, 'Daddy,'" said Natalie Stovall Fraby, Walker's mother, while walking in an inner city Memphis neighborhood. "I said, 'Yes!'"
It was the last time Walker saw his father.
On Monday in Memphis, Walker, now 12, put on Lt. Matt Stovall’s T-shirt, dog tags and determination. He and his mother came out to walk the Carry the Load Relay as it passed through on its way to Dallas for Memorial Day with about a dozen veterans, college students and other volunteers.
Walker took the American flag, which gusty winds tried to rip away. He gripped the flag hard and leaned in as he prepared to walk five miles.
"For my daddy," he said.
It’s the only reason any of them need. For 24 hours and seven days, a total of 2,000 miles will be walked through cities and down backroads. Relay participants include widows, children, vets, officers, firefighters.
“It’s been pretty phenomenal," said former Navy SEAL Stephen Holley.
Holley, who co-founded the Carry the Load organization, occasionally wrapped his arm around Walker as they pressed against the wind. He met Walker and his mother when the relay came through Memphis in 2013 and wanted to come back and walk with them again.
"We asked why [Fraby] was out here and she essentially said, 'I wanted Walker to know that people haven’t forgotten his father’s service and sacrifice,"' Holley said. "Obviously that will rip your heart out when you hear it."
And it was heard a lot as onlookers asked what Carry the Load means.
One woman came out of a bank, started to cry and then walked a full five-mile leg. She lost her son in Iraq six years ago. Walker's mom understood.
“To know these flags get carried for hundreds or thousands of miles, and Walker gets to carry it for five miles for his daddy, [it's] good stuff," she said.
The relay traveled from West Point through New York City and down to the Arlington National Cemetery.
Late Monday, a relay team member biked over the Mississippi and into Arkansas, where the question of who are you carrying brought some tough answers.
Sunday, the Carry the Load Relay will land in Dallas, where the Memorial March will take place on Memorial Day.