In the years after U.S. Army Veteran Shawn Patterson lost his friends, Spc. Ricardo Cerros, Jr. and Sgt. Tyler Holtz, while serving in Afghanistan, Patterson knew he wanted to honor them in some way.
About 18 months ago, Patterson came up with the idea of walking the 425 miles from Holtz’s hometown of Dana Point to Cerros’ hometown of Salinas, California as part of this year’s Legacies Alive Challenge, Trek to Tribute.
The nonprofit, Legacies Alive, aims to raise awareness and funds through legacy challenges like Patterson’s upcoming trek, bringing Gold Star families together through legacy events and erecting memorials to honor servicemembers and how they lived.
Patterson said he was inspired by Legacies Alive co-founder Michael Viti’s 4,400-mile trek from Washington state to Baltimore in honor of the 6,843 servicemembers killed during the Global War on Terrorism. He wanted to create his own path to honor his friends.
“I originally got involved with Legacies Alive back in 2014 when Mike was walking across the country. I joined him for a small portion of it, just a month or two,” Patterson said. “I immediately fell in love with the mission of Legacy Alive—at the time, it was Hiking for Heroes—their dedication to Gold Star Families. It was just contagious.”
“Ever since early 2014, I wanted to come up with my own challenge, and about a year and a half ago, I came up with this,” Patterson continued.
Patterson’s trek will begin from Lantern Bay Park on Sunday, Sept. 24, and feature opening remarks. Gold Star mother Carol Berberich will join Patterson for the first 10 miles of his journey.
“I felt very honored,” Patterson said. “The whole point of this was to do it together, with Gold (Star) families, is the goal. It meant a whole lot to me … for her to want to walk the entire first day with me. It’s very inspirational.”
Legacies Alive President and co-founder Mark Faldowski explained that the nonprofit aims to connect Gold Star families with each other and grow the organization during Patterson’s journey.
“Carol’s a great example,” Faldowski said. “She’s the president of our Gold Star advisory board. … She does a tremendous job of outreach and finding families, contacting families on ‘angel-verseries,’ on birthdays, on significant events.”
Patterson, a recruit training officer at the police academy in Mesa, Arizona, expects to walk roughly 18 to 20 miles a day in order to complete the trek in a month. He will begin the hike on the 12th anniversary of Holtz’s death.
Patterson joined the Army in 2010 and was stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington. As a private, Patterson noted that Holtz, a sergeant, was basically his direct supervisor.
“As a new recruit, most of the team leaders and sergeants and above aren’t really nice to you; they’re very firm and strict,” Patterson said. “One thing I remember about Tyler, he was just very kind.”
Holtz’s larger-than-life personality earned him the nickname “The Incredible Holtz,” Patterson said.
Patterson added that he remembers Cerros’ smile and upbeat, positive attitude.
“He would always maintain a positive attitude,” Patterson said. “Ricardo would always have a smile on his face … just bringing the cheerfulness into a room; he was always good about doing that.”
During Patterson’s first deployment with the 75th Ranger Regiment in 2011, Holtz was killed that September during a heavy firefight, and Cerros was killed in October while attempting to shield a wounded soldier from a fragmentation grenade.
After more than a year of planning the trek, Faldowski noted that the organization is “excited it’s coming to fruition and really pumped for Shawn to get out there, start walking and watch people rally around him.”
“This is one of Dana Point’s own with Tyler, and I think it’s going to be fun to bring his story, his legacy, back into the forefront … and tell Tyler’s story, to tell Ricardo’s story,” Faldowski continued.
Patterson noted that he hopes the residents of Dana Point learn of Holtz’s story, his passion and sacrifice.
“After 9/11, he really was passionate about defending this country and our freedom, and he wanted to make sure there was never another terrorist attack the size of 9/11 on American soil,” Patterson said.
Through his upcoming journey, Patterson added that he hopes to raise awareness for the sacrifices made by all servicemembers.
“Ricardo and everybody else who’s made the ultimate sacrifice, especially in the global War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Patterson said. “We were in combat for decades, and there’s a lot of Gold Star families still out there that need our support and need the average American to understand what they’re going through and what they’re still going through.”
Faldowski, who also served in the 75th Ranger Regiment with Patterson during his second deployment, added that his vision for the nonprofit is to ensure everybody in the U.S. knows what a Gold Star family is and knows the stories of the men and women who sacrificed their lives.
“The history books are going to be written as they will, and that’s important; however, I’ll be damned if people don’t know who Tyler Holtz, Ricardo Cerros are,” Faldowski said. “So, I think it’s very important for generations to come to know in a true sense of the organization, the legacies that these men and women carry.”
Legacies Alive aims to raise $250,000 to support its mission. As of Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 19, Patterson and Legacies Alive had raised more than $77,000– nearly 31% of their overall goal.
“The vision here is by going out, having a platform, doing something to raise funds, to erect memorials in their hometowns and honor them, but also, hopefully, the communities and other men and women that were killed alongside them,” Faldowski said.
“But in order to do that, you have to get to know the community first,” Faldowski continued. “We will find out here, over the next several months, what other Gold Star families are in that community.”
Those interested in seeing Patterson off on his journey should arrive at Lantern Bay Park by 11 a.m.
More information about Legacies Alive and how to donate to the nonprofit can be found at legaciesalive.com/. Additional information about Patterson’s trek can be found at legaciesalive.com/trek-to-tribute/.