Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola leads the fourth annual March for Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 29.
Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola leads the fourth annual March for Fallen Heroes in Austin, Texas, May 29.

 

 Story by Staff Sgt. Daniel Griego

 AUSTIN, Texas -- While much of the country observed Memorial Day weekend with barbeques, sports and gatherings,  a small band of patriots came together on a hot Texas afternoon and marched almost seven miles in honor of their  fallen comrades.

 The fourth annual Texas March for Fallen Heroes, held Saturday, May 29, brought together families, servicemembers  and veterans for a four-hour event to remember and recognize the ultimate sacrifices of those who lost their lives in the  global war on terror. 

 "Today I'm here because it's a great event and we want to honor some of the Soldiers that we've lost over time," said  Army Master Sgt. Laurie B. Armstrong of Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 36th Combat Aviation Brigade. 

 The event's architect, Army Staff Sgt. David Mendiola, drew his inspiration after reading an article in the Guard  Experience Magazine. 

"It was about a Tennessee Guardsmen walking nine miles in honor of the Soldiers who passed away in his unit in Iraq," Mendiola said. "I saw a picture of [him] walking around with a rucksack with a flag behind it and that immediately caught my attention."

For the fourth time now, Mendiola has brought together patriots of all backgrounds to honor and celebrate their revered heroes. Up from three dozen last year, this year's march grew to 45 servicemembers, veterans and family members.

"I'm here to honor my nephew," said Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jose Calderon. "He died in '04; he was in the Marine Corps."

Calderon, who served in the Texas Army National Guard until 2001, had another reason for marching alongside bearers of the T-patch, the emblem of 36th Infantry Division. 

"I used to be part of the brigade," he said, "but back then it was 49th Armor."

Master Sgt. Armstrong wore her own significant patch for the occasion.

"The Red River 44 Patch. We were moving from Kuwait to Iraq and one of our Chinooks went down. We lost seven Soldiers that day; one of them was a really good friend of ours, CW2 Corey Edwards. We had [the patches] made while we were overseas and it just kinda spread around and everyone started wearing them. A little something to honor them."

Joined by her husband, warrant officer David S. Putman, she marched the full route for her fallen comrades in reverent esteem for their service and sacrifice. 

For this year's event, Mendiola reflected on how important something as simple as marching can be and how far-reaching its presence can be felt.

"We can actually make an impact on the community," he said. "It's open to all branches, all walks of life. I can only expect this thing to grow each and every year."