Everyone loves Memorial Day – it’s time off of work, a day for picnics, barbecues and relaxation. Often, though, the fun and celebration of the first holiday of summer obscures the real meaning of the day – to remember the brave military men and women who gave their lives for their country. We talk to two former Navy Seals about how they created a march that helps them, the families of fallen soldiers and others to honor those who served and raise money for non-profits that help vets, their families and first responders around the country.
Host: Gary Price. Guests: Clint Bruce & Stephen Holley, U.S. Naval Academy graduates, former Navy Seals, co-founders of Carry the Load.
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Memorial Day: Celebrating the true meaning
Gary Price: It seems that many of our holidays and commemorative days have lost their meaning, being co-opted by commercial interests such as “President’s Day Sales” and “Fourth of July Specials.” Memorial Day is another holiday where many people seem to be more concerned with the day off of work than the reason why they’re getting it. Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley are all for enjoying the Memorial Day weekend. However they also want Americans to remember that the day has a special significance that we should all reflect on.
Clint Bruce: The origin of Memorial Day really kind of came from Flag Day. The intent behind Flag Day and now Memorial Day was to honor the military fallen in combat and in training and it’s just matured beyond Flag Day into Memorial Day which now commonly recognize. It is the day the nation has selected to pause and reflect on those who thought this nation was worth it and to recommit ourselves to being worth it.
Price: That’s Clint Bruce, U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former Navy Seal.
Bruce: Reconnecting the nation with the history of this holiday and to reestablish it with reverence, and not to make it this very solemn day but a day to both pause, reflect and recognize and celebrate men and women that have gone before us, thought this place it was worth it, and kind of renew and recommit ourselves to making it that. So, obviously, the history is really important and we kind of rewrite history every year with the right reverence for the day.
Price: So why is Memorial Day’s message often lost on today’s Americans? Stephen Holley, also a U.S. Naval Academy alum and Navy Seal, says it has to do with our changing military structure.
Stephen Holley: Statistically right now for post-9-11 service, one percent of the American population has served. When you look at, I don’t know the exact numbers, but when you look at World War I and World War II when a lot higher percentage of the population was serving in the uniform during those conflicts, as Americans today get further away evidenced by that one percent from that service and sacrifice, I think it – right, wrong or indifferent – it just doesn’t take the priority that it once did because not everybody is directly affected by it.
Price: Holley and Bruce decided they wanted to bring the message of Memorial Day to as many Americans as they could and, in the process, help veterans and their families and civilian first responders, so they co-founded “Carry the Load.” It’s a relay that begins on each coast and meets in Dallas for the Memorial Day weekend. Holley says it’s a chance for civilians, veterans, and families who have lost a loved one in the military to share their stories and help raise money for the cause.
Holley: We started in Boston on the East Coast and started in Seattle on the West Coast and we, in five mile increments, will cover five miles every two hours carrying an American flag, a Carry the Load flag and we have families and participants who sign up and join us on each of those five-mile legs. And we walk 24 hours a day, seven days a week, making our way toward Dallas. And, essentially, both of those two legs of those relays are billboards for Carry the Load and billboards, more importantly, for Memorial Day and the importance of that holiday. And, again, those families that we talked about earlier, gives them an opportunity to come out and walk together and for them to know that this country hasn’t forgotten their family’s ultimate sacrifice. So it’s a very reverent time, but it’s also a very celebratory atmosphere and it’s a phenomenal experience for the families that you get to meet and the stories that you get to hear along the way.
Price: Bruce says that he loves the stories that people share during the march and on the website, CarrytheLoad.org. There’s a special relationship that develops between soldiers in combat that is unlike anything else.
Bruce: There’s simplicity to it and a purity to it that’s really even hard to articulate. One of the things that being overseas and in the service is that there’s risk, of course. That’s part of it but there’s simplicity and a purity of purpose there that allows you to just forge these really, really deep bonds and there’s unique circumstances and scenarios and extreme circumstances and scenarios that you just don’t really find anywhere else. You know, one of the things I tell people is, they ask Steve and I a lot about why do you guys like to suffer? And we really don’t. That’s not the point. The point isn’t that we like to suffer. It’s just suffering for us sometimes is a little bit of a time machine and it takes us back to the time and place where we were next to these men and women who are no longer with us. You know, the only way you can forge that level of camaraderie and tribalism is through time or suffering. And if you don’t have time, all you have left is suffering, and that’s our training programs and sometimes it’s the overseas experience and it’s very, very special and Carry the Load is sometimes one of our ways to show that.
Price: In addition to commemorating fallen soldiers, Bruce says that we need to thank those who served and returned home…especially those who served in Vietnam.
Bruce: For me, one of the biggest missions I have is to continue to try and reconcile the Vietnam generation. The Vietnam generation is owed two statements from this nation. They need to hear “I’m sorry.” They need to hear an apology, a sincere, meaningful apology from this nation for how they weren’t welcomed home the way should have been. They just need to hear that 40 years later. And then they need to hear “thank you.” The way we fight now, the things that we do now, I can promise you with total conviction that some of my friends are home because of the lessons we’ve learned in Vietnam through that generation. So, we love all those generations to come out but in particular, for me, the Vietnam generation, I want them to see and I want them to hear “Welcome Home” because it’s been far too long and they did not come home with the honor that they deserved.
Price: Often, when we think about soldiers who gave their lives or who served in wartime, we concentrate on the men in uniform. Bruce says that the women in the military are also included in the remembrances during the march.
Bruce: The history of women in combat in support of this nation is amazing. Really for, I think Stephen and I, there’s no distinction between male and female. There’s those who served and what they did. And gender’s a second piece of that very important story, and a very important piece too. But it’s fun to hear everybody just talking about what they did, where they did it, who they did it with, who they did it for, all those things are in common. I have three daughters and it’s exciting for me and somewhat sad, at times, to share the stories of these amazing women that I got to go to the Naval Academy with and serve with who are as valorous as any man I’ve ever known, and (we) use that month the celebrate that.
Price: Carry the Load relay is more than just a way to commemorate the men and women who served and who lost their lives defending this country. Holley and Bruce say it’s a way for former-military personnel to continue to “serve” – something they find helpful in their own lives.
Holley: When you take off that uniform you lose some of that sense of purpose and that higher calling. And for us Carry the Load has been a way for me to continue to serve in come capacity. When I got out of the Navy it became very evident to me that something was missing, and so to be able to continue to honor and celebrate the memories of those men and women and through, you know, our non-profit partners to be able to raise money for those families is just another way that we can continue to serve our nation and those families in particular.
Bruce: You know our nature is to serve, and go to extreme effort on behalf of others and I don’t think I realized how much I needed that until we started doing it again. So I think America has a deep desire to serve each other and we see that in extreme times but I think also we’re trying to create opportunities where you can demonstrate that every year during May for us is really important as well.
Price: When both the East Coast and West Coast relays reach Dallas on Memorial Day weekend, Holley says there will be more celebrations and remembrances in store for everyone.
Holley: In Dallas we have what’s called our “Dallas Memorial March,” and we start on the Sunday afternoon before Memorial Day and we’ll have the two relays will walk into our event to kick off what is a 20-hour walk here in Dallas. And when I say “20 hours,” a lot of people kind of roll their eyes and think, “Man, 20 hours is not for me,” but where we see the vast majority of our participation. And in Dallas last year we had about 15,000 people at our opening ceremonies, and about that same number at our closing ceremonies and we had people walking all night. But it is a very family-friendly event with bounce houses and food trucks and beer trucks and playgrounds, and it’s an opportunity for families together to go out and walk with us. And we use the Katy Trail here in Dallas, which is a three-and-a-half mile trail on the north side of downtown Uptown and it’s an opportunity for people to come together to honor the service and the sacrifice that has made this country so great.
Price: Holley says that Carry the Load has a number of corporate partners that underwrite the relays and events, but everyone is encouraged to help raise money for the cause.
Holley: The reason why we’ve been able to raise so much money over the past five years is our events are free. Anyone can walk off the street and come in and participate with us. But we give our participants the opportunity to go online, to register for one of our events – whether it’s a leg of the relay or whether it’s the Dallas event – and they can register, they can create their own fundraising page, and then they can disseminate that across their network. And, in Dallas last year, our corporate sponsors paid for our event here in Dallas and all the money that we raised through our participants in that peer-to-peer fundraising was the money that we were able to gift back to our non-profit partners. It’s a phenomenal way for us to be able to bless those non-profit partners that are serving our military veteran, law enforcement, firefighters and rescue communities, and it also speaks to a very passionate participant base that is very generous. Although, a couple of years ago, if you’d have told me that we’re going to raise a million dollars through our participants here in Dallas in $5, $10, $15 donations I would have told you that you’re crazy. But we did it last year and we’ve done that year after year, so it’s, we’ve been blessed on multiple levels here.
Price: Even if you can’t make it to the Dallas event or take part in a leg of the relay, Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley say you can still participate. Just go to their website, CarrytheLoad.org, to find out how you can help. You’ll find resources for veterans and their families to share stories there, as well as a listing of the non-profits who benefit from Carry the Load’s fundraising efforts. To find out more about all of our guests, log onto our site at viewpointsonline.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.