Reflecting on Sacrifice: Former U.S. Marine Explores the Meaning of Memorial Day

May 15 3 min read

Many veterans struggle with a significant dilemma: how to honor the legacies and memories of friends and fellow veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice. JJ Leonard, Executive Vice President and Partner at Stream, candidly acknowledges grappling with this dilemma himself. After transitioning to civilian life following years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, he lost many friends in battle and felt a deep obligation to honor the fallen and their families by keeping their names alive and sharing their stories with whomever he could.

Then, in 2011, an invitation from friend and former Navy Seal Stephen Holley changed everything. Stephen and fellow SEAL Clint Bruce invited JJ to join Carry The Load, a movement aimed at restoring the true meaning of Memorial Day. In true military form, JJ answered the call.

We had the privilege of sitting down with JJ and delving deeper into his involvement with Carry The Load, illuminating the organization’s profound meaning to him and the lives of many.

Why is Memorial Day important to you?

At its core, Memorial Day embodies the foundational values of valor and freedom upon which America was built. It’s a day dedicated to honoring the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, ensuring that future generations can cherish the freedoms they hold dear. This legacy is one that we must always uphold.

For me personally, Memorial Day serves as a solemn reminder of the immense debt we owe to those who laid down their lives in service to our country. Their selflessness is woven into the very fabric of our freedom, reminding us of their bravery. Honoring them is not just a duty but a profound act of gratitude, respect, and a means to help their families and communities heal after their loss.

My friends and classmates who laid down their lives for America deserve nothing less. They, along with countless others are American heroes who gave everything so that we could enjoy the freedoms we often take for granted. Their legacy must remain top of mind.

Tell us about your involvement with Carry the Load

Carry The Load has, in many ways, been cathartic for me. Honoring the legacy and telling the stories of those who gave their life for this country has eased the pain of losing friends who served in the Marine Corps and the Navy. When I “Carry The Load,” I carry Major Megan McClung, USMC, Major Doug Zembiec, USMC and LCDR Erik Kristensen, USN Seal. I also carry my grandfathers, one of whom served for 20 years in the Navy and the other who served 34 years in the Army during WWII and the Korean War.

While I’ve been involved in the organization in many capacities, the most rewarding role has been that of our Non-Profit Partner Committee member. Since our inception, we have raised over $40 million from sponsors and peer-to-peer fundraising, supporting numerous organizations doing amazing work for our veterans, first responders, their families, and the families of the fallen. We’ve grown into a year-round organization and now have 50 Non-Profit Partners located coast to coast, each with various missions but all with the same core value–to honor those who have sacrificed for each of us.

Since I joined Stream in 2015, it’s been a joy to see how our team, their families, and friends have given their time and resources to support Carry The Load. Over the years, dozens have come and walked during the Memorial March, raising an impressive $300,000.

About Carry the Load

Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley, two distinguished U.S. Navy SEAL veterans, founded Carry the Load in 2011. Their unwavering dedication to honoring American heroes lies at the heart of the organization’s mission to raise awareness of Memorial Day’s intent. Far more than just a long weekend, it’s a sacred time to pay homage and remember the courageous acts of the fallen.

Our National Relays and Memorial March now comprise “Memorial May”—a monumental undertaking spanning a cumulative 20,000 miles from coast to coast, which begins in early May in West Point, New York; Burlington, Vermont; Minot, North Dakota; and Seattle, Washington. These marches converge in Dallas, Texas over Memorial Day weekend, serving as a poignant tribute to our nation’s heroes.

The significant funds Carry The Load has raised to date are a testament to how much America has rallied behind this cause. These funds are instrumental in supporting many organizations dedicated to serving those who serve us while drawing attention to their vital work.

How can you pay tribute to our military heroes this Memorial Day?

This year, you can honor our military heroes by joining Carry The Load’s Dallas Memorial March or locating a relay near you. Additionally, you can contribute online, supporting our mission of honoring our heroes and aiding military personnel, veterans, first responders, and their families. Whether you reflect, march, or donate, your involvement ensures that our hero’s sacrifices are always remembered. You can join our team or donate to the cause via this link: Team Stream.

Carry The Load is more than a 501(c)(3) organization, but a movement fueled by our nation’s collective gratitude. This Memorial Day, let’s remember those who gave their all for the freedoms we hold dear.

Who are you carrying?

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