Kevin St. Louis marched with pace in his stride. A red, white and blue bandana encircled his head and a camo-print backpack with his last name sewn into the back bounced with each step up Bayshore Boulevard.
“It means freedom. It means opportunity,” the Haiti-native said with a big smile. “I decided I wanted to give back to this country.”
St. Louis, an active duty member of the Marine Corp, was one of over 600 people participating in the Carry The Load march 5K on Memorial Day morning. The large group left from downtown Tampa and walked around the convention center, over a bridge, past Tampa General Hospital and up Bayshore before doing an about-face and returning to downtown.
Those 3.1 miles represented patriotism and duty.
“Freedom isn’t free,” said Nancy Rodriguez, whose son returned from Army service with PTSD after losing a childhood friend in battle. “It’s just important to me.”
Rodriguez carried a photo of her son’s friend, William J. Maher Jr., pinned to her backpack. Maher died on July 28, 2003.
Up ahead of her, walking in nothing but a USA-theme pair of sunglasses and shorts, Chris White made the walk with a few friends.
He flew in from Houston just to make the three-mile walk in his Marines-issued backpack.
“I also really appreciate the amount of civilians who show up to support,” he said. “When we remember the fallen, there is no discrimination in that.”
Everyone in the Carry The Load March was encouraged to carry something significant with them while on their journey through downtown Tampa. Many carried photos of family members who had died while serving the nation. Others carried American flags.
The hot sun couldn’t deter the crowd from doing what they felt was the appropriate way to honor America’s fallen on Memorial Day.
“It’s just a good day to get out and have the camaraderie that we need and be with our friends who are still here,” said Ashley Moir, who clipped 54 dog tags engraved with the names of veterans she’s known who committed suicide. “We’re a community and no matter what happens, we’re together.”