While many will spend Memorial Day at cookouts, the beach and checking out sales at the mall, four veterans will be pushing their strength to scale the tallest mountain in North America, all in an effort to bring awareness back to what the holiday really means.
Josh Jespersen, Margaux Mange, Nick Colgin and Brian McPherson all served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They'll soon begin what they call Mission Memorial Day — and effort to transition Americans away from retail and back to remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
"We want Memorial Day to be Memorial Day again instead of mattress sales and spring fashion shows," Jespersen, a former Navy SEAL and the expedition's leader, said while training in Colorado. "We want people who were lost to actually be remembered on Memorial Day. We feel like the meaning has gotten lost, and we'd like to get it back."
The former service members are set to fly to Alaska's Denali National Park, where they'll attempt to reach the summit of Mount McKinley. At 20,237 feet above sea level, it's the tallest peak in North America.
They won't be alone. The group is carrying two American flags covered with names of military members who have been lost in war. One flag has nearly 80 names on it, while the other is covered in the names of every Navy SEAL killed since 9/11.
The climbers — three of whom suffered life-changing injuries during combat — plan to fly those flags at the top of Mount McKinley to remind everyone in North America of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
But they say the names they have aren't enough. The group wants Americans to submit more names via their website, MissionMemorialDay.com, to be added to more flags before they being their ascent.
"Anyone they know who was lost — their close friends, relatives, a friend's friend — just any names. We want to take as many names to the top and remember and honor as many people as we can," Jespersen said.
For those who wish to submit a name, click on the link above and fill out the short form. It's that simple.
The veterans' goal is to reach the top of Mount McKinley on May 25 — Memorial Day — 17 days after their mission begins. Although when it comes to mountain climbing, anything goes.
"With these mountains and high altitudes, the summit day is never set in stone. We're trying to make it on the 25th, but if we have a weather window before, we have to take it, and weather may push us back," Jespersen said.
The former SEAL said the average time for climbers to reach the summit is 12 days. This particular group has done "a bunch of 14-ers," as Jespersen said, referring to 14,000-foot climbs. Hopefully that training will give them the strength they need to get to the top.
Good luck, vets! And be sure to follow the Memorial Day conversation at #HonorThem.