The Touching Story Behind This Viral Memorial Day Photo of Grieving Iraq Vet Who Marched 13 Miles in Full Combat Gear to Visit Grave

At Riverside National Cemetery, National Guard Sgt. Eric Hille, 33, of Murrieta sits at the grave of his friend Sgt. Eric Holke, who was killed by an improvised explosive device while the two were on a mission together in Iraq in 2007. Now an engineer with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Hille walked 13 miles in full military gear to honor his fallen comrade Sunday. (PHOTOGRAPH BY: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A photo of Iraq war veteran Sgt. Eric Hille, in full uniform, standing over the grave of a fallen soldier touched the hearts of millions on Memorial Day as the country celebrated the sacrifices made by America’s men and women in uniform.

Hill was reportedly visiting the grave of Sgt. Eric Holke at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif., KCAL9 reports. The Los Angeles Times reported that the 33-year-old soldier walked 13 miles to get to the cemetery.

Hille told KCAL9’s Tom Wait on Monday that he decided to start a new Memorial Day tradition by marching to a fallen soldier’s grave. He decided to start at a fellow soldier’s grave who he considered a brother.

“I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to do a road march from here in Moreno Valley.’ I picked station 91 to Riverside National Cemetery in full combat gear,” Hille explained.

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He loaded up 70 pounds of combat gear for his 13-mile sojourn — no walk in the park. He told Wait a lot of emotions came up during the march. It wasn’t easy, emotionally or physically, but he made it.

“When I could actually see Riverside National Cemetery is when it started to get hard. I was running out of water and started to cramp up,” he says.

Holke and Hille were guarding a supply convoy in Iraq back in 2007 when an IED went off. Holke’s Humvee was caught up in the explosion.

“I got down into the turret and try to look at Sgt. Holke. I got back up and saw my Sgt. and just shook my head,” Hille recalled.

Holke left behind a wife and unborn child. Those loved ones helped inspire Hille six years later.

Hille said 20 people have already signed up to march with him on Memorial Day 2014, and that number will almost certainly increase significantly throughout the year.

“We have to do our best to continue to remember the ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice for what we have the privilege of doing in this country,” the veteran said.