Run for the Fallen experience impacts local runners
America’s Run for the Fallen, a run that spans the United States to individually honor and remember all military service members who died during the War on Terror traveled through Sabetha last week.
On Tuesday, June 5, runners — many local — ran up U.S. Highway 75 from Mayetta to the Kansas-Nebraska state line, coming into Sabetha for two stops as well as a closing ceremony. The American Flags local residents have gotten so used to seeing were flying along Main Street and Old Highway 75 to welcome the Run.
Numerous local runners participated in the June 5 portion of the Run, including Rick Smith, Shannon Stapleton, Caleb Clock, Kurt Mueller, Melissa Detweiler, Ashley Stalder, Brianna Gruber and Steve Plattner. The experience had a lasting impact on these local runners.
Smith said he was contacted and asked to help find volunteers to run with the organization, and it sounded like a good cause so he agreed.
“Thanks to a small group of dedicated folks, we were able to take turns running and offer some well-deserved relief to the ‘core runners’ who travel and run with the group every day,” Smith said.
While Smith said he had followed the Internet live feed of the Run for a few days and was prepared for the logistics of the run, he was completely unprepared for the emotional impact.
“In addition to spending quality time running and riding along in the RV with Run for the Fallen volunteers and hearing their stories, we had the privilege of running alongside a Gold Star couple who came from St. Louis to join the organization for a day, in honor of their son, who will be recognized later at an Honor Marker in Georgia,” Smith said. “We met two other Gold Star Families who traveled long distances just to be present at their soldiers’ designated Honor Marker.”
“We shared time on the road with Chad, a volunteer runner and veteran and his dog, Woody, whose full name is comprised in remembrance of three fallen soldiers Chad served with in Iraq,” Smith said. “We were greeted, escorted and cheered along the way by many, and grieved alongside so many others for whom a hug meant more than any words we might have been able to muster.”
Plattner said he considered the Run “like a mission trip for me,” and thought he experienced a lot more in the 1/2 day he participated than he had expected.
The afternoon runners met the all-day group just north of Netawaka, and Plattner said he was surprised to meet a Gold Star Family mother and father from Omaha who had come to their son’s — Staff Sergeant Johnathan R. Smith, who died Nov. 3, 2008 — Honor Marker.
“At this point, I was not expecting to see the loved ones on this route,” Plattner said. “We all hugged, said a few words of thanks for John and what he did for us and paid tribute and then ran another mile.”
At each mile marker, called an Honor Marker, two or three names of the fallen are read and honored with a short ceremony.
Not far into the afternoon, Plattner said, the group began to close in on a place that was meaningful to many members of the group.
“I knew we were really close to where we had lost the Ukele family last fall, and Rick Smith brought this up to our group so this was another meaningful mile marker for myself and others that knew the Ukele family,” Plattner said.
Plattner, like Smith, also talked of Chad, who was on a six-day commitment as a core group member. Plattner said he learned Chad’s story and why he was running while they rode in the RV together.
“The time on the RV with Chad who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq and his story of how his service dog Woody was named struck my heart and brought tears to my eyes,” Plattner said. “His dog Woody Teal Frye was named after three fallen service members that either Chad witnessed being killed or knew well during his time in Iraq. The last one was only 19 years old on only his third day in Iraq.”
Detweiler said she immediately felt drawn in to this experience and felt something saying “do this.”
“I’m so glad that I listened to that voice. Our group joined the caravan half-way through the day and within seconds of getting out of the vehicle, we were standing roadside next to a Gold Star Family. We were greeted with smiles and hugs. Complete strangers to us until just minutes before, yet the feeling of pride and gratitude in their hearts was evident,” Detweiler said. “This type of thing continued several more times throughout the afternoon. I can only imagine the emotional journey that the crew of the Run for the Fallen has been on since starting their journey in April. I was only a part of it for several hours but immediately felt like one of the family.”
“Physically, the running had challenges. It was hot. The flags were heavy,” Detweiler said. “But, just as soon as a thought like that would enter my head we would come to a stop and read the names of those who have given all of themselves. The flags instantly became weightless when we would lift them in honor of their sacrifice. The sweat was replaced with tears from a mother running for her fallen son. It was a humbling experience that I will be forever grateful for.”
Clock said he decided to run to contribute and show his appreciation for his veteran family members.
“My dad served in the Vietnam War, and my sister and brother-in-law went to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War,” Clock said. “I’ve been a runner for most of my life, and when the opportunity presented itself to do Run for the Fallen I thought this is a way that I can contribute and show my appreciation.”
Clock was the catalyst for fellow runner Stapleton, who said that Clock told him about the run and said he should contact Smith if interested. Stapleton had numerous family members and acquaintances who had served or were serving in the military, so he felt drawn to do the Run.
“I have had numerous members of my family serve in the military with a grandfather that served first in the Merchant Marines and then served in the Air Force and Army during his career. He served in Korea,” Stapleton said. “I had an Uncle that served in the Marines and then in the Army and served in Vietnam. In his later years, he was diagnosed with PTSD which is something that really came to the forefront with the more recent Middle East Conflicts that has impacted our active members of the military and returning Veterans. I also have cousins and school classmates that are currently serving or have served in the Middle East in the various branches of the military. None of them have ever been asked to pay the price that freedom can demand.”
Stapleton said his initial thought going in the Run was to pay respect to those who had paid that price for him, so he can live in the United States in a way he takes for granted.
“I travel worldwide for my job, and I will just say we should all be so thankful for what we have here,” Stapleton said. “Especially here in Sabetha, I don’t know sometimes if people realize just how unique it is for what it offers. So, to run for the day and provide ceremony for the fallen members of our military I felt was a very small price to be paid for in sweat in exchange for what has been paid for in blood.”
Before the run even started that day, Stapleton said, the emotional level was taken to a higher level when the runners were joined by Heather and Woody from St. Louis, Mo. — whose son had died four years prior — who were joining the group to run.
At the 14th mile of the day, Stapleton said, the mother of Adrian Roble was present for the ceremony and afterwards passed out wristbands that had her son’s name on them along with the phrase “Your Freedom My Life Without Compaint.”
“I am going to try to wear that on my wrist till the band rots off and carry Adrian’s name with me wherever I travel,” Stapleton said. “I believe it is merely that fact that the wristband is a physical item that makes me feel even more connected to Adrian and his ultimate sacrifice, without complaint.”
“His mother followed us for several miles, parking her car behind the caravan and hustling up to the ceremony site so she could be present to honor others who had fallen, like her son, without complaint. Pretty powerful stuff,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton said he would like all who read this to remember the military veterans and those who have paid the price that freedom can ask.
“One of my cousins that came out of the military had a difficult time finding a job so, he re-enlisted in a different branch of the military like his father and grandfather before him. Another one lives with his mother and has on and off jobs never quite finding something that makes him feel complete,” Stapleton said. “Our veterans that come home that are diagnosed with PTSD or become homeless due to not being able to find a job due to a mental or physical setback are in need of a helping hand.”
“I know we pay taxes to help the government out with things like this, but I think like so many other things in life, you need small scale focus. Something that is localized,” Stapleton said. “I know we have a lot of charity opportunities right here in Sabetha. Things that people want to do to make our town nicer. That is awesome! But, please remember, the fallen and our veterans have given us the opportunity to be able to pursue those things.”
“So, in closing, I would ask that when there is an opportunity to give back to a veteran or to remember the fallen, please consider it, they deserve it as they have done what many of us have not had to do, without complaint,” Stapleton said.
Following the day’s run, a closing ceremony was hosted at the Mary Cotton Public Library.
“I would also like to express my appreciation to the Sabetha community for the support given to this group and their cause, including Gina Murchison and the Chamber; Patty Locher, Tom Evans and the VFW; Kiwanis and Boy Scouts; Dennis Stones and Lori Gruber; Cindy and Kenny Alderfer; and, of course, those who attended and contributed to the ceremony and fundraisers,” Smith said. “All in all, I believe this to be an honorable event, and I’m appreciative and humbled to have shared in it alongside those runners and this community.”
About the Run
America’s Run for the Fallen is one of the most comprehensive fallen military tribute events ever organized. It calls attention to and specifically honors the men and women who have died during the War on Terror beginning with the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000.
A rotating team of more than 400 active duty military and civilian members from throughout the nation will complete a 19 state, 6,100-mile journey to honor every fallen service member — numbering nearly 20,000. Each mile of the route will be dedicated to individual heroes and their families, based on their chronological date of death.
Carrying a full size American Flag, Honor and Remember Flag, and Honor and Sacrifice Flag along with hero information, each relay team will stop at one-mile intervals in an apolitical reflection of remembrance of each service member, where a pre-staked “Hero Marker” is placed. There they will call each name out loud and deliver a short tribute for waiting Gold Star family members, friends, comrades and patriots.
The Run began on April 7 at Fort Irwin, Calif., and had been covering 50 miles each day. The Run will conclude Sunday, Aug. 5, at Arlington National Cemetery, after the 6,000-plus mile mission.
Sgt. Don Allen Clary of Troy was honored at Mile 3 on Sunday, May 6, in New Mexico.
CPL Heremiah S. Cole of Hiawatha was honored at Mile 22 on Saturday, May 19, in Texas.
SPC Matthew Michael Murchison of Independence, Mo., was honored at Mile 1 on Sunday, May 27, in Oklahoma.
For more details or route maps, visit www.runforthefallen.org.