DALLAS — When you've lost a loved one in the military, every day is Memorial Day.
The Carry the Load organization, now in its ninth year, continues to be the biggest event in North Texas. It asks all of us to be reverent on at least this one day of the year.
As is the custom at the Carry the Load event, held each Memorial Day weekend in Reverchon Park, a field of American flags lined the grass near the west end of the park.
To be exact, 6,920 flags, one for every member of the American military killed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of those flags represented the life of Arthur Garza, a Marine killed 28 years ago in Operation Desert Storm. His parents, Barbara and Oscar Garza, of Fort Worth, attended the Dallas event for the first time. With their heads lowered, they cried as a bugler played taps on the Reverchon Park stage.
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“It reminds me of the day that we buried him," Barbara said. "That was really, really hard. “He’s missed. He’s missed every day. It’s just not happy Memorial Day. He’s missed. We love him so much.”
That wound that never really heals is what this day in Reverchon Park is all about.
The event was started nine years ago by former Navy SEALs Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley. It's grown from a reverent remembrance of the true meaning of Memorial Day to a financial support system for organizations dedicated to helping veterans, first responders and their families.
In its "Continuum of Care" programs, the Carry the Load organization now provides support to 30 different agencies involved in veteran-related services.
That's why Mark Kelso, an Air Force veteran, joined the Carry the Load overnight march up and down the Katy Trail several years ago. At the time even, he was recovering from gastric cancer and the ravages of chemotherapy.
That year, he still put in 10 miles. Still battling his diagnosis, he walked again this year in memory of the friends and military colleagues he lost in the bombing of the military barracks in Beirut in 1983.
“To actually see people come out in public like this and turning around and saying, 'Hey, we remember,' it's amazing," Kelso said of the event. "And that’s the most important thing, we remember.”
Jeff Venable walks to remember firefighters and police officers lost. Overnight, he walked farther than anyone, more than 50 miles.
“It started 20 hours ago and I’ve been out 20 hours," Venable said. "I always do the whole thing."
This year, the two-day event raised nearly $500,000 for veteran assistance organizations. It ended Monday with families and friends carrying placards with the names and faces of the fallen to the front of the Reverchon Park stage.
Among the faces on the placards was Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, who was killed in 2017 in Niger. His best friend, Eric Stewart, joined Johnson's widow, daughters, and fellow soldiers at the weekend march.
"This is amazing to see," he said. “When there is a fallen soldier, unfortunately this has happened, we all have the obligation to carry the load for the families and the loved ones and raise awareness that this is true, it happens. Not enough is done as Americans as we should for the ones that have fallen to let us be who we are every single day."
To date, Carry the Load has raised more than $21.7 million, of which 93.14% goes towards three CTL programs: Awareness, Continuum of Care and Education.