Carrying The Load: A Veteran Reminds Us What Not to Forget on Memorial Day

by Col. Jack Jacobs, U.S. Army (ret.) /  / Updated 

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I was once asked what I thought about on Memorial Day, and I said, truthfully, that it's the same thing I think about every day: the men who fought next to me, people whose flesh and futures were destroyed by the violence of armed combat.

In a larger sense, war changes everyone, even those who did not fight in it — or at least it's supposed to.

Memorial Day's concept is for all of us to reflect on our citizens whose efforts gave us freedom but whose sacrifices prevent them from enjoying it.

But for a wide variety of reasons — not the least significant of which is that a vanishingly small percentage of us who serve in uniform — duty and sacrifice in the service of the Republic has become an obscure, even alien, concept, and Memorial Day is now a cliché, a day to celebrate bonhomie and gastronomic excess.

Clint Bruce's mission is to change that.

Bruce is a former Navy SEAL with an astonishing amount of experience on dangerous missions, and, having lost comrades in battle, he believes that it is his duty to remind Americans of the real intention and meaning of Memorial Day.

And to that end he founded Carry The Load.

Image: Carry the Load
Retired Marine Josh Lewis; Kelley Brown, widow of Adam Brown (a former Navy SEAL and co-founder of Carry the Load); and Clint Brown, a former Navy SEAL and co-founder of Carry the Load, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, at an exchange point along the relay.Matthew Reid / Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College

Yes, Carry the Load collects contributions that are distributed to the needy families of troops and first responders who have died in the line of duty, but the charity's premier event is occurring right now.

It is a walk that began on April 28th at the cemetery at West Point and will end on May 24th in Dallas, a distance of 2,000 miles. It's a relay, and so, like the march of the Olympic Torch every four years, most people walk only a part of the enormous distance, but it passes through so many cities and town that it can't help but inspire people about the real meaning of Memorial Day.

Watch NBC Nightly News on Sunday night for more on Carry The Load

The first walk, just a few years ago, was comprised of 500 participants. Last year, the number was 35,000, and Clint Bruce's objective is to include a million or more and to be able to assist 100,000 families of the fallen.

Why "Carry the Load?"

"Well," says Bruce, "in life, like in combat, you're either being carried or you're carrying somebody."

For those of us who have endured the terrible ferocity of war, his notion is a coherent one: We enjoy freedom today because we were carried here by those who sacrificed everything.

In the end, the mission of Carry the Load is to remind us anew of Abraham Lincoln's sermon at Gettysburg: That it is for us, the living, to be dedicated to the unfinished work of the fallen.

And, as Clint Bruce reminds us, you can't do that if you forget.

Image: Carry the Load
Relay participants walking into Yardley, Pennsylvania, continuing the 27-day, 2,000-mile event.Matthew Reid / Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College

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