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Veterans, Families Skip the BBQ and Beer to Carry the Load Around White Rock Lake

Yesterday, at 4 p.m. sharp, men wearing weight belts and camouflage pants lined up next to young families pushing baby strollers as nearly 400 people bearing backpacks, weights, logs and photos of loved ones set out along the 9.3 mile loop around the White Rock Lake. It was the kick-off of Carry the Load, a Memorial Day walk in honor of fallen service members, law enforcement officers and firefighters that lasts till 12:11 p.m. today -- exactly 20 hours and 11 minutes, meant to mark the year 2011.

​Carry the Load is the brainchild of former Navy Seal, Clint Bruce, to whom the three-day weekend means far more than beer and barbecue. "I think Memorial Day influences and affects guys in different ways," he told Unfair Park. To him, it always felt right to remember the lives he saw lost in Afghanistan by walking around White Rock Lake wearing weights and reflecting on the people who never made it home from war.

Bruce says when was walking around White Rock on Memorial Day about five years ago, an older veteran asked, "Hey, son, who you carrying?" This moment, he says, stuck with him and became the catalyst for this weekend's event. "Everybody carries somebody and has been carried by somebody," Bruce says.

Instead of his typical holiday of playing golf and laying by the pool, Mike Gosslee opted take the long walk to honor his father, a doctor in World War II, and grandfather, a doctor in World War I. He had his father's combat boots draped over his shoulders. His wife's son, Stephen Holley, is a former Navy SEAL and one of the event's organizers; he brought his wife, children and grandchildren. Said Gosslee, "This tells [the children] that there is a reason for the words 'Memorial Day'."

Before his walk, Mike Gosslee stood in front of the wall where participants signed the names of those they're honoring.
Congressman Pete Sessions addressed the audience during the opening ceremony, saying, "We honor the people of the U.S. military not only for service, but also for sacrifice... Today there are men and women around the world who are in dangerous and lonely places." A 21-gun salute by members of the Paralyzed Veterans Association then officially kicked off the event.

Watching his idea unfold into reality, Bruce fell in with the first wave of walkers. At the starting line, he saw a man break down. He said, "I've been carrying this load since Vietnam." Bruce said, "It's overwhelming." It would become a phrase he used often throughout the hot, windy afternoon.

The Carry the Load walk will continue until 12:11 p.m. Some people aim to walk the entire duration, others plan to do so for a short time.The event will be followed by a lunch and a closing celebration. Click here for the schedule. Proceeds from participants and donors will benefit Heroes on the Water, Joe Foss Institute, Fisher House, Assist the Officer Foundation, Dallas Firefighters Museum and White Rock Lake Conservancy.

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Leslie Minora