|In this image released by the Texas Military Forces, service members, families and local civilians participate in the 5th Annual March For Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 28, 2011. The event, held each year on Memorial Day weekend, honors service members who have lost their lives in the global war on terror, as well as lost veterans of past wars. Participants marched a 7.6 mile route from Zilker Park to the state capitol and back in memory of their lost loved ones. Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola has organized and executed the Austin event ever since first hearing about a similar march in an issue of GX Magazine.
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Griego
For some, Memorial Day means little more than a long weekend of barbequing that starts off the summer each year with fun and activities. For a small band of patriotic service members and civilians, however, the somber day that recognizes the countless lives lost in American conflicts overseas and stateside is not a celebration, but a solemn reminder of the sacrifices necessary to ensure the freedom and safety of our nation.
"Keep in mind who we're walking for," said Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola at the start of the 2011 March for Fallen Heroes. "Let's make sure the community knows, and never forgets."
The annual event, now in its fifth year, brings together veterans, family members, current service members and citizens of all ages for a 7.2-mile foot march from Austin's Zilker Park to the state capitol and back. As a staple affair in the Texas Military Forces, which includes both the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas State Guard, the march additionally serves as a community outreach program, inviting Austinites to participate who might not even have family in the armed forces.
"Today is great," said Mendiola. "We had a lot of participants show up today. We have more civilians this time, so I'm pleased about that."
Mendiola, who started the Texas march four years ago, first got the idea for a memorial foot march after reading a story in Guard Experience Magazine about a Tennessee guardsman who carried the U.S. flag around his town in honor of those who died in the Global War on Terror.
"I immediately went to my first line supervisor," said Mendiola, recounting the day he read the article. "Within three weeks, me and three other members of my section met up at Zilker park, we loaded up and we started walking toward the capitol."
"I'm marching for my buddy Anthony Green," said Army Sgt. Donald Denson, "[killed in action] in Afghanistan two years ago, and every other soldier that fought for the 36th ID from World War I until now."
Denson, a soldier with Austin's 36th Combat Aviation Brigade Headquarters, brought with him to the march his son, who recently enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard.
"I feel like a soldier now," said Army Pvt. Michael Denson, Donald's son. "It's a real good feeling to be able to march with everybody out here."
Texas veterans from outside the Texas Army National Guard proudly joined the march thanks to Mendiola's networking efforts.
Preston Rogers, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970, learned about the event after meeting Mendiola on-line.
"We're on a Facebook group together, Friends of Texas," said Rogers.
Rogers also brought his older brother, William Rogers, a veteran of the Navy who served from 1960 to 1965.
"I'm grateful to the people that are here," said William Rogers. "I'd like to see more people out here."
The increased turn-out for this year's march means more and more Texans each year are getting the word. The support for those involved has been resounding.
"When I was out there this morning," said Mendiola, "looking out at the crowd, it hit me hard."
For more information about this year's March for Fallen Heroes and how to join the memorial walk next year, please visit www.marchforfallenheroes.com or e-mail the event coordinator, Staff Sgt. David Mendiola at firstname.lastname@example.org.