March for the Fallen

On Saturday, a group of 60 finance types followed Wes Gray’s lead to hike 28 miles in remembrance of fallen members of the military. Wes and a few others even did it with a 35-pound ruck in tow. In front of the barracks you see below (our sleeping quarters the night before the hike), Wes told us: “this is not a place you are going to die,” which was reassuring.

We all slept like shit in anticipation, but I’ve always enjoyed those sleepless nights before a challenge. To sleep always feels to me like missing out on part of the fun. At 2am, the mind races in anticipation, and you feel alive. We were ready early the next morning:

500 people marched. Many family members marched in memory of those they had lost. Many active duty military members marched with full packs and full gear, and it was hot as hell. Many carried flags, never letting them touch the ground. There we no complaints.

Here are photos of the fallen, most of whom looked tragically young.  At every mile marker, one of their pictures was posted as motivation and as a reminder. In the blink of an eye, my son will look as old as some of these soldiers.

As the day went on, a small group coalesced and we all marched together for the rest of the day. With strangers, we talked about our childhoods, the kindnesses that we’d seen and experienced, and when we last cried.  Someone told us about his wife asking about their daughter, who had just been delivered. “She’s perfect,” was his answer.

How odd is it that I know a few of those people that I met Saturday better than people I see all the time?

The experience highlighted the power of novelty, vulnerability (physical and mental), and appreciation. Screw steak dinners. If it means an experience like this march, give me full foot blisters anytime.

Start some tradition like this on your own, even if it is just two of you the first year. Do something really hard and use it as a chance to appreciate life, family, and the various kindnesses (sacrificial or otherwise) happening everywhere.

In emails to me, Wes will often sign “Semper Fi” or just “s/f.” Semper Fidelis means “always faithful.” Faithful to what? It is a good question for each of us to ponder and answer, and then live accordingly.