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Fallen Warrior Foundation

Posted on Friday, May 31, 2024 at 10:38 am

Photo and story by Patty Blackburn

Sgt. David M. Hierholzer

May 6, 1979 – July 24, 2006

Almost 18 years ago, on July 24, 2006, Army Sgt. David M. Hierholzer was KIA in Pesch Afghanistan.  He sustained injuries when his platoon encountered enemy forces small arms fire. Hierholzer was a 1998 graduate of MCHS, attended Columbia State Community College and Middle Tennessee State University, studying criminal justice before enlisting in the Army in May 2002. He served in Iraq from September 2003 until September 2004 and went to Afghanistan in early 2006. This hometown hero earned a series of military honors during his service and was a brave soldier who gave his life to help others in their defense for freedom for the people of Afghanistan.

Hierholzer has family and many dear friends in the Marshall County community. One best friend is Gabe Cross, whom Hierholzer gave support and encouragement to when he needed it the most. To pay thanks to Hierholzer’s friendship and loyalty, Cross put a photo of Hierholzer and a small flag in his pocket and headed out across the county on Memorial Day morning of 2019. After a while, several people stopped and asked him who he was and what he was doing. Cross was able to tell them Hierholzer’s story as he showed them his photo and the flag. People listened and cared.

This gave Cross the idea to get more people involved in honoring the fallen warrior.  So he started the runs each Memorial Day, at the north end of the county, and stopping at the south end for a total of 32 miles. In year five, the Sgt. David Hierholzer Fallen Warrior Foundation was created.

This year was the sixth year for this and at least 50 runners participated, ages 16 to 67, for a fee of $25 per participant.  Multiple residents of the community volunteered to set up aid stations for the runners along the way with more and more wanting to participate and support the new foundation and Hierholzers’ memory. Chris, Hierholzer’s mom, rode his bike, which is pictured with the runners.

“Before the run was organized, I felt there was a dark cloud over Memorial Day. Now we celebrate his life and what his sacrifice means. Each Memorial Day, friends and family now get together because of the 32 mile journey across the county and instead of mourning his loss, we celebrate his life and our freedom,” stated Cross.

Cross knows in his heart that Hierholzer would approve of the foundation which helps children in the community. All funds generated by selling tee shirts and fees from the run are put back into the community, every single penny. These funds have provided school supplies and backpacks for approximately 100 students. Funds from the foundation help those who have difficulty paying children’s sports related fees or purchasing equipment. Each year, the foundation also sponsored several new teachers and classrooms at local schools.

With the help of Tommy Clark, Founder of Urban Bicycles Food Ministry in Nashville and also a MCHS grad, the foundation is now an approved 501(c) organization. Now more funds can go toward needed items, etc. in the community instead of all purchases being taxed. Cross received the approval of being a 501(c) on May 6th, and what else was important on this day? May 6th is Hierholzer’s birthday!  “After realizing this day was his birthday, I knew it was meant to be and we are going in the right direction with the foundation to honor David.” said Cross with excitement.  “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. This is our something.”

On May 27th, Memorial Day, the sixth run of the Fallen Warrior Foundation started at 5 a.m. in the north end of the county and after 9 a.m. the runners made it to the Marshall County Courthouse where they rested and met with Hierholzer’s family and friends. Then they headed south where several aid stations were placed for their convenience. Two miles before reaching the end of the run, the runners stopped to take a break and Cross made a small speech. These last two miles were just for David Hierholzer.  Cross and a few other runners finished the run, wearing weighted vests to symbolize the weight that Hierholzer’s family carries every single day – every day for the rest of their lives.

So this is the story about how the Fallen Warrior Foundation started and why it exists today. Next year on Memorial Day, if you happen to notice runners on Hwy 31A, take a minute to remember Sgt. David Hierholzer, the fallen warrior, from Marshall County, Tennessee.