Home Emergency Former Navy SEALS want you to never forget true meaning of Memorial...

Former Navy SEALS want you to never forget true meaning of Memorial Day

ST. LOUIS — For many people, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and a three-day weekend of barbecues, beach trips and other outdoor activities. But for those who’ve lost loved ones to war, it can mean visits to the cemetery and the re-emergence of grief and pain.

Two former Navy SEALs who didn’t want people to lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday co-founded Carry The Load, a nonprofit group dedicated to the mindful awareness of those who died in service to the U.S. military.

Every year, Carry The Load organizes a monthlong national relay consisting of five routes covering 20,000 miles across all 48 states in the continental U.S. People march in remembrance of their loved ones’ service and to make sure their memories are never forgotten.

Jessica Kessel, left, leads the West Coast route of the Carry The Load relay in Austin, Texas, on May 24. Mario Cantu / Cal Sport Media via AP

“You die twice — when you physically pass and then when people forget about you,” said Dave Wirtz, whose son, Scotty Wirtz, 42, an operations support specialist with the Defense Intelligence Agency, was killed in a suicide bombing in Syria in 2019.

“Their mission is they’re never going to forget about Scotty or everybody else,” he said of the group. 

Before he joined the intelligence agency, Scotty Wirtz served eight years as a Navy SEAL, which is how he met Stephen Holley, who started Carry The Load in 2011 with friend and SEAL veteran Clint Bruce.  

Scotty Wirtz was killed in a suicide bombing in Syria in 2019.Courtesy Carry The Load

Holley described what motivated him to start the group: “It was some pain, some anger and some frustration of having lost those friends.” 

The organization has raised more than $32 million, most of it going to educate the public about the military and to physical and mental health services for veterans. 

Dave Wirtz marched with Carry The Load last weekend in the family’s hometown, St. Louis. He put weights in his backpack in a show of solidarity with his son and the SEALs, whose packs can weigh over 100 pounds, and as a symbolic way to “carry the load.” 

That leg of the relay paused at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Missouri, where Scotty is buried. As nearly 100 marchers arrived at the site, rain began to pour, and thunder cracked overhead. But it didn’t stop Dave Wirtz and his ex-wife, Sandy Wirtz, from paying their respects at their son’s tombstone.

Dave Wirtz, in green, Sandy Wirtz , in an American flag vest, and Stephen Holley, in a blackshirt, pay respects at Scotty Wirtz’s grave.
Dave Wirtz, in green, Sandy Wirtz, in an American flag vest, and Stephen Holley, in a black shirt, pay respects at Scotty Wirtz’s grave. NBC News

“We hear every day about our boys who are killed in service, but it is unimaginable until you’ve experienced it yourself,” Sandy Wirtz said. “It changes your life.” 

Dave Wirtz said he will never forget the night he learned about the death of his son, who was on his 24th trip to a combat zone.

“It was quarter to 11 on a Wednesday night,” he said. “I was watching TV, and somebody rang the doorbell.”

When he saw that the people on his doorstep were with the Defense Intelligence Agency, he knew what was coming.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” he said.

The Islamic State terrorist group, better known as ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attack in Manbij, Syria, that also killed 15 other military members. 

At the cemetery, Dave said: “Visiting Scotty reminds me of the good stuff. It’s always more of a celebration.

“I wish he was here.”

Carry The Load’s relay will end Sunday and Monday in Dallas, where 20,000 people are expected to march for the people they lost, love and refuse to forget. 

Holley said that on this Memorial Day, he wants Americans to remember what it’s really all about: “Take some time to read someone’s story, to put a name to a face, to make it personal this year.”

Most Popular

Los Angeles DA George Gascon defends record on crime: ‘I know how to keep communities safe’

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles! Progressive Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon defended his record against critics who have accused...

Biden signs landmark gun legislation: ‘God willing, it’s going to save a lot of lives’

President Joe Biden signed into law the most sweeping legislation aimed at preventing gun violence in 30 years at the White House on Saturday shortly before...

Pfizer Says Tweaked COVID-19 Shots Boost Omicron Protection

NEW YORK —  Pfizer announced Saturday that tweaking its COVID-19 vaccine to better target the omicron variant is safe and works — just days before...

Thomas wants the Supreme Court to overturn landmark rulings that legalized contraception, same-sex marriage

The Supreme Court must revisit and overrule past landmark decisions that legalized the right to obtain contraception, the right to same-sex intimacy and the...