NEW LONDON-Since Oct. 4, 2010, Rick and Tracy Clark have been on a journey that every parent of every military service member hopes they don't have to take.
That's the day their 22-year-old son, Ryane, was killed by enemy fire while serving with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Knowing that other Gold Star families have also walked in their shoes, the New London couple will lead a three-day, 44-mile walk this weekend on the Glacial Lakes Trail to honor the 109 Minnesota service members killed in action since 9/11.
The Minnesota Fallen Heroes Walk also will let parents know their sons and daughters have not been forgotten, said the Clarks.
Placards with photos and a short biography of each military member, including in which branch of the military he or she served and when and where he or she was killed, will be placed every quarter-of-a-mile along the walk, which goes from Willmar to near Paynesville and back again to Willmar.
As each placard is put in place over the course of the three days, the biographies will be read out loud. It will be a time to remember the soldiers and honor their families, said Rick Clark.
"Tracy and I, through this new walk that we've encountered since 2010, we've met with other Gold Star families throughout the U.S.," he said. "We're fortunate enough, in the community we live in, we have the support of the community. But we just want to show and honor these fallen service members and let their parents know that their loved one hasn't been forgotten," Clark said.
The walk begins at 5 p.m. Friday at the Glacial Lakes State Trail parking lot near the Willmar Civic Center and will end that night at the trail's parking lot in Spicer, about seven miles down the trail.
The second phase is about 25 miles. It begins at 7 a.m. Saturday in Spicer and extends to near Paynesville. Walkers will then turn around and go back to New London to the parking lot on the trail that's dedicated as a memorial to Ryane Clark.
The site includes flags, a granite bench and a bronze bust of Clark as an Eagle Scout.
The final 12-mile leg of the walk begins at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Ryane Clark parking lot and returns to Willmar.
People can join and depart the handicapped accessible trail anytime throughout the three days, and support vehicles will be available to assist walkers who want to return to their vehicles, said Tracy Clark.
There is no fee to participate, but donations are being solicited to help fund the Gold Star family weekend retreat held every August at Camp Ripley.
Donations have helped offset some of the costs the Clarks have incurred in organizing the walk and creating the placards. New London-Spicer welding students made and donated all 109 metal stands for the sturdy placards.
The biographies of the military members will remain on the trail through July 4.
After this weekend's Fallen Heroes Walk is done, the Clarks said they will decide if it will be an annual event.
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