Fallen Soldiers March – Hampton Roads

History of the Fallen Soldiers March

History of the Fallen Soldiers March

history_2009On Veterans Day 2009, a promise was fulfilled after a challenge had been met.  Master Sergeant Jim Williams had challenged at least 100 soldiers to show up for the Annual Nine Mile Fallen Soldiers March™ in Lebanon, TN; promising to march from the square in downtown Lebanon, TN across the Cherokee Nation Trail of Tears, along Highway 70, to Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville, Tennessee to honor our United States Military Veterans.

Master Sergeant Williams had survived an enemy attack and injuries involving a Humvee explosion.  I asked Master Sergeant Williams if I could join him on his March.  I had been raised to love, respect and value our military men and women and the sacrifices made by the Founding Fathers of our great country.  I was not prepared for the range of emotions that God had prepared for me that day as I marched alongside Sergeant Williams nearly 12 hours and over 29 miles.

The day started with a personal friend, Pastor Melvin London of Christ Center Church, Church of God in Christ in Lebanon.  Pastor London is a retired Army Vietnam Veteran, having received the Purple Heart for gunshot wounds and a medal for Valor.  Pastor London is also a three time cancer survivor and dedicated patriot.  Pastor London marched alongside Sergeant Williams and me through part of Lebanon.

Throughout the day, the radio coverage encouraged people to stop and make donations to the families of Fallen Soldiers.  Many people pulled over to the side of the road with hand written notes sharing their stories of fallen family members along with charitable contributions.  We were greeted by the entire West Elementary School as we migrated out of Lebanon into Mt. Juliet; receiving high fives from all of the children alongside a cyclone fence.  In downtown Mt. Juliet, Vietnam Vet Michael Burke of the Veterans Restoration Project was operating a hot dog stand in front of the Tractor supply; he waved us in to bless us with a complimentary hot dog and drink.  Horns honked the entire day as drivers passed by us while holding the American Flag erect in all its glorious colors.  Two women and their elderly father greeted us with small American Flags waving as we crossed over Briley Parkway out of Donelson; offering us bottled water and encouragement.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars organization along this route also saluted us with encouragement as we moved towards our destination.  One of the most touching events of the day was a limo driver who held up traffic alongside a Nashville side street in downtown Nashville.  He was standing with his hand over his heart as we marched by him, ignoring all the traffic backing up because of the Country Music Awards Ceremony occurring that evening in downtown Nashville.

history_2010During the entire day, I fought back tears as I began to realize the resolve and tenacity our soldiers exemplified when ordered to march all night long through rigorous jungle, dessert and mountainous terrains; arriving at their destination not to replenish their energy with food and sleep, but to fight an enemy that was determined to terminate their existence.  These men and women carried not only weapons and artillery; often they were burdened with 70+ pound packs.  It was humbling to recognize that at the age of 47, and in exceptional shape, I could barely stand up on the top of the stairs at Legislative Plaza at the end of our journey because of the intense muscle cramping that seized my legs and nearly caused me to fall backwards down the steps.  It took me several days to fully recover.

That day was a deeply convicting spiritual experience for me.  However, despite all the airplay we received over the radio and the attention we had received along our march down highway 70, I was deeply grieved by the realization that the optimism and anticipation Master Sergeant Williams was looking forward to all day when we marched up Second Avenue towards our destination was not going to be fulfilled.  Master Sergeant Williams was excited about all the people that would be lined up to support our cause and make contributions for the Fallen Soldiers; I cautiously kept my reservations to myself.  Unfortunately, my intuition was correct.  There was no fanfare or cheers or support along the entire march up Second Avenue; the silence was deafening.  Master Sergeant Williams kept out hope that there would be a crowd at Legislative Plaza to greet us.  Once again, my heart sank as we both realized that the only person to greet us was his father, a retired United States Air Force serviceman.

The reality of the reception that our servicemen and women of Vietnam had received upon their return to the United States, grieved my soul.  The iniquities committed against the men, women and children of the Cherokee Nation as they were relocated across the Trail of Lost Tears, a path that incorporated parts of our journey that day, penetrated my superficial historical perspective of the suffering they endured.

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