01 October 2012

Scenes from a Remembrance Run

More than 800 registered runners and walkers participated in the 5 km Third Annual Remembrance Run at Raccoon River Park, West Des Moines, Iowa, on Sunday morning, Sept. 30. The annual event raises funds for Iowa Remembers, Inc., a Central Iowa non-profit that, in turn, underwrites an annual retreat for survivors of Iowa's fallen service members.

For previous coverage of the Remembrance Run on the Red Bull Rising blog, click here.

The retreat takes place on the last weekend of September. That's because the last Sunday in September is also national Gold Star Mothers' Day. Traditionally, in the United States, Gold Star banners are symbols used by families of those killed in service to their country.

Iowa Remembers maintains a list of service members and others killed overseas since 2003.

At this year's race, ninety-six American flags line the running path leading to the finish line. Under each flag is the picture, name, age, and hometown of one of Iowa's fallen. Many entrants register in the honor of a loved one or buddy. Others register as "teams" commemorating a specific soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, or civilian. They may even wear T-shirts featuring names and pictures of the fallen.

The names of the fallen are read prior to each year's race.

This year, I was humbled and honored to be asked to speak those names again.

Not to get too Zen about it, but public speaking is sort of like shooting a rifle. If you think about it too hard, or listen to the voices in your head while you're doing it, you're bound to mess it up somehow. Set the cadence. Keep breathing. Say each name carefully, with deliberate pauses, without stopping to dwell on the ones you know personally.

I had practiced. I had done this before. Still, some of the names get to me this time. And, after I have read them all, it feels someone has just smacked me between the eyes with a ball-peen hammer.

"Runners to the front ... slower runners to the middle." For some reason, that gets a laugh. "Walkers to the rear ... strollers to the back."

Singer Sydney Lett and Maj. Gen.
Timothy Orr, the adjutant general
of the state of Iowa. Photo courtesy
of Iowa Remembers, Inc.
Using the bed of a pickup truck as a makeshift platform, 15-year-old country singer Sydney Lett performs the Star-Spangled Banner. The Des Moines teenager often lends her voice to Iowa National Guard ceremonies and services. "Don't worry about the truck," she says. "I'm a country girl." After the National Anthem, Eddie Hatfield of radio station KJJY starts the race by blasting an airhorn.

While the runners are out on the course, I go for a walk. I find the names I know, and stop at each of their flags. Before and after the race, I see others doing the same.

In less than half-hour, runners are crossing the finish line. They include:
  • First-place male: Luke Craven, 33, of Johnston, Iowa, 16 minutes, 52.8 seconds.
  • Second-place male: Cole LaFollette, 15, of Des Moines, Iowa, 18 minutes, 44.5 seconds.
  • First-place female: Erin Cahalan, 14, 20 minutes, 23.7 seconds.
  • Second-place female: Julie Spieker, 36, of Urbandale, Iowa, 21 minutes, 14.2 seconds.
For full race results, click here.

For the record, by the way, Craven is a former member of 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT). "Attack! Attack! Attack"

Smarting from the unexpected emotion of reading the names, I attempt to ground myself in the crowd, mixing and meeting, grinning and greeting. I pick up a few race anecdotes—that's "race" anecdotes, mind you, not "racy" anecdotes—along the way.

Reuben Garza, 41, of Waukee, Iowa
carries the company guidon from
334th Brigade Support Battalion,
while Patrick Swartzendruber, 40,
 of Dallas Center carries
the battalion colors.
The story goes that one Remembrance Runner, for example, notices that he's just been passed by Patrick Swartzendruber, 40, of Dallas Center, who is carrying the 334th Brigade Support Battalion colors. Not just the guidon, mind you, but the full flag with streamers. Heavy stuff.

Just after that, the same runner is passed by a family of three, one of whom is a child riding in a stroller. "Oh, come on!" the runner yells in mock exasperation. "Just how slow am I?!"

Not to worry. Swartzendruber later learned that, when you're carrying a large flag, a light breeze can really take the wind out of your sails when you start heading back. What comes around, goes around.

Maj. Gen. Timothy Orr, the adjutant general of the state of Iowa, runs the race, and afterward shakes hands with others at the finish line. Nearby, members of Polk City, Iowa's American Legion Post No. 232 help distribute race medals.

Command Sgt. Major John Breitsprecker, the senior enlisted adviser of the Iowa National Guard, runs the race, too.

A number of 34th Infantry Division Association members cheer racers from along the route. Puppy-raisers from Paws & Effect are on the course, along with their service-dogs-in-training.

Ed Graybill of Ankeny, Iowa, who went with the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division headquarters to Iraq in 2009, wore the high-visability "Run with the Bulls" T-shirt from that deployment. "They would've allowed us to wear these instead of reflective safety belts during PT," he says. "Then again, would you really want to run around the base perimeter wearing bright orange?"

Graybill, 47, finishes the race at 20:01.6. The eighth finisher across the line. Then, he doubles back to help pace his 10-year-old daughter Morgan. She finishes in 42 minutes, 43.3 seconds.

She's a bright pink blur, trailed by a blaze-orange comet.

It is a new family memory, on a day that honors families and memories.

Iowa remembers.
Photo courtesy of Iowa Remembers, Inc.

1 comment:

  1. This brought tears to my eyes this morning. Good people, remembering those who have given their last full measure of devotion, helping each other live strong and proud. I'm especially moved by Maj. Gen.Timothy Orr, adjutant general, and Command Sgt. Major John Breitsprecker running the race. We all breathe and bleed the same. We are one humanity, equal under the law, equal in the eyes of God. God bless the good people of Iowa.


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