DALLAS — Carry The Load's stated mission is to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day. But countless veterans will also tell you how the organization helped save their lives.
That's the story Corena Mitchell will gladly tell anyone who asks. WFAA reporter Kevin Reece met her on the ground floor of Dallas' World Trade Center, where she admitted the first part of her story did not start well.
"I was suicidal," Mitchell said, recounting her life after 16 years in the Army. "I felt that my life would be easier if I wasn't there."
Her job in Iraq in the early 2000s was to write and compile "Killed in Action" reports. She would write, with as much specificity as possible, who, when and where American soldiers died: reports that would eventually end up in the hands of their families.
"In about nine months, I would say, I wrote 60 reports like that," she said, also admitting that a dozen of those reports were for friends and coworkers she knew personally.
Fast forward several years, and trying to function with undiagnosed PTSD, she was a mom with two kids. She was trying to finish a college degree, but she was still contemplating the best way to die.
"I wanted to graduate before I ended my life," she said. "Because I wanted my kids to know that mommy had her degree. I wanted something important to be attached to my name when I was gone."
"What do you make of that logic now?" Reece asked.
"It's silly," Mitchell said. "It wouldn't have meant anything to my girls."
The turning point, she said, was the day she turned on the TV and saw a veteran named Coleman Ruiz carrying an American flag from West Point, New York all the way to Dallas. At the time, Mitchell said she would rarely leave her house because her PTSD was so severe. But for Ruiz, who was walking across the country, she made an exception.
"So, I got in my car and I tried to find him," Mitchell said. "I just need to talk to him. I just needed to see him."
Mitchell did not find Ruiz that day. But after moving from New Jersey to Dallas, she shared that story when she became involved as a volunteer with Carry The Load.
And in a film that will play Memorial Day weekend at the Carry The Load event, they did finally meet.
"He needs to know that walk, that determination that I saw in him, he gave that to me to get the help I needed," Mitchell said in the film.
And now, all these years later, she is returning the favor. That ground floor of Dallas' World Trade Center is home to Attitudes and Attire. Mitchell leads its "Boots to Heels" program. With clothes and counseling, she helps female veterans like herself transition to the civilian work force.
"And it was the first time I thought, I'm not alone. And the answer isn't to end my life. I cried, and I got the help I needed," Mitchell said, of the first time she met with the staff of Attitudes and Attire. "So, I like to say that Attitudes and Attire, they saved my life."
And that's the purpose of Carry The Load: honoring the lives lost by making a commitment to the lives we can still save.
"There's people, there's help," Mitchell said. "There's so many people out here willing to help with that transition. And that's what Attitudes and Attire and that's what Carry The Load, that's what we're doing."
And that's what they promise to keep doing for every Memorial Day yet to come.