ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Four military veterans are aiming to summit North America's tallest mountain on Memorial Day, armed with the names of hundreds of Americans who have died while serving their country.
The Mission Memorial Day team is collecting the names of fallen veterans to be inscribed on flags the climbers plan to carry May 25 to the top of Alaska's 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, widely known in Alaska as Denali. The climbers all have sustained some kind of injuries themselves from their own military service in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For the Denali expedition members, the day is not about finding the best deals in mattresses or cars or whatever else is being hawked in holiday sales.
"We're really just trying to get the message across on what Memorial Day should be," expedition leader and former Navy SEAL Josh Jespersen of Boulder, Colorado, said Friday. "It's really about memorializing those that we lost overseas."
The team developed the idea after meeting through their affiliations as participants or mentors with No Barriers Warriors, a nonprofit organization's program for veterans with disabilities. So far, the team has collected 100 names of people killed in war zones or during training exercises.
Jespersen, 28, said the names submitted to date go as far back as World War II. He also will carry the names of 72 Navy SEALs lost since 9/11.
More than two weeks before the planned summit, the team will gather in the town of Talkeetna, a community north of Anchorage that serves as the last stop for McKinley climbers. They plan to hit the mountain the next day, May 9, according to team member Nick Colgin of Fort Collins, Colorado.
The goal is to finish the climb by May 31.
Colgin, 30, is an Army veteran who survived a 2007 rocket grenade strike on his Humvee in Afghanistan. For him, the purpose of the upcoming climb is twofold.
One, Colgin hopes the trek serves as an inspiration to veterans and civilians by showing they are not broken people or victims despite their own injuries.
And two, he wants to make sure to properly commemorate the one day each year that is supposed to honor those who paid the ultimate price for the nation.
"On that one day, the message often gets lost by the mattress sales and the used car sales," he said. "We're trying to get the focus back on Memorial Day."
Follow Rachel D'Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro