Statewide run honors New Jersey’s fallen heroes

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From left are Master Sgt. Robert Grant, Airman 1st Class Bryan Long and Master Sgt. Bubba Beason during the third annual NJ Run for the Fallen Sept. 24, 2011. Behind them on the bicycle is Sgt. Mike Minard, a double amputee; at right is an unidentified Korean War veteran.

SOMERS POINT – Over the course of three days, a group of active duty personnel from the United States Armed Forces will run a combined distance of more than 172 miles in honor of every New Jersey service member killed from the decade-long battles in the Middle East.

The fourth annual NJ Run for the Fallen will begin 8 a.m. Friday, Sept. 28 at the Cape May Lighthouse and is expected to finish Sunday afternoon at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Holmdel.

During the run throughout the state, teams of three runners will honor each soldier killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. The runners will carry the United States, New Jersey and the Honor and Remember flags as well as a smaller American flag. At designated hero markers they will stop, read the biography of the fallen soldier, plant the flag and bio in the ground, salute and greet the family of the fallen service man or woman.

Michael Simpson of Holmdel has been an organizer of the run since its inception in 2008. He currently serves as president of the board of trustees of the organization and is the volunteer coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management in his hometown.

He said last year’s run took two days with 54 active duty runners, with the lowest rank being a private and the highest a major general.  

“This year we are up to 60 plus. All are active duty. They all come on their own dime on their own time,” said Simpson Thursday, Sept. 20.  “There is nothing official about this; they do it because they want to honor their fallen comrades, that’s their motivation.”  

Simpson maintains the website, www.njrunforthefallen.org, which has a Google Maps database of all of the honorees, the route of the run and times when the runners are scheduled to arrive at a particular hero marker.

This year on average, Simpson said the running teams will cover 6-mile legs, running 8-minute miles. He said the frequent stopping makes the run difficult because it disrupts the runners’ rhythm.

“Last year the first day was 86 miles on Saturday. They ran from 6:30 in the morning to almost 9 o’clock at night and arrived almost 29 minutes late,” Simpson said.

Simpson said there are 169 honorees with New Jersey connections – meaning all were either born, grew up or lived in the state.

The first two miles are for two men who were not from New Jersey.

Army Cpl. George A. Lutz II, 25, of Virginia Beach, Va. died Dec. 29, 2005 in Fallujah, Iraq when he came under small arms fire. Army 1st Lt. Michael J. Cleary, 24, of Dallas, Pa., was killed Dec. 20, 2005 by an improvised explosive device near Ad Duluiyah, Iraq.

Simpson explained that Lutz’s father designed the Honor and Remember flag (see www.honorandremember.org) and will run his son’s mile on Friday morning.  Cleary was the motivation for the first Run for the Fallen. In 2008, Cleary’s roommate Jon Bellona ran from Fort Irwin, Calif., to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., an action that served as inspiration for similar events; including this one.

NJ Run for the Fallen was started by Air Force 1st Sgt. Bubba Beason. Simpson helped Beason during the first NJ Run for the Fallen in 2009 and has carried the torch while Beason is deployed.

“He still comes every year to do the run,” Simpson said. “This year he is coming from Arkansas.”

Simpson said the run is very personal to everyone involved.

“When you speak to some of the families, they know when they look down the road straining to catch the first sight of the runners; that’s their mile. They know those runners are doing it just for them. It’s really personal. It makes it more personal because it’s for them, not for anyone else. That happens 172 times,” Simpson said.

The website database has the person’s name and their hero marker number, which will be painted in large orange numbers on the side of the road before the run. The numbers are not just for the runners, but also for the public to attend.

“We encourage people to come out and stand and be at the hero markers to remember the reason there is a hero marker there in the first place,” Simpson said. “Please don’t forget, all of these are men and women are from New Jersey, from your town or your adjacent town. Don’t let them be forgotten.”

Simpson said in addition to the 172 miles, the run will stop at the VFW Post 4715 in Point Pleasant to honor and remember more soldiers. They include 18 soldiers killed in the barracks bombing in Beirut, Lebanon; Operation Desert Shield; Operation Desert Storm; and Operation Gothic Serpent, Somalia. Flags and biographies will be carried for each of those soldiers by runners.

Many of the markers are in or near the hometown of the solider.

Army Pvt. Anthony J. Sausto, 22, of Somers Point, who died May 10, 2007 in Baghdad of wounds sustained from enemy small-arms fire, will be honored 6:40 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29 at Patriot Park on Bethel Road and 1st Street (Veteran’s Way) in Somers Point, where 10th Street was recently dedicated to Sausto. The runners will begin in the parking lot of Sandi Pointe Coastal Bistro, 908 Shore Road at 6:30 a.m. that morning.

People can search for the names of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines on the website or see who is being honored each month on the Wall of Heroes, celebrating the life of a soldier on the anniversary month of their death. There are also driving directions for each day’s route.

Approximately 30 minutes prior to the arrival of the runners, an advance team of Blue Star Mothers of America will arrive at the marker with a traveling Wall of Remembrance of soldiers from the Atlantic Coast states who died in battle during the same conflicts the run is honoring.

In addition, 37 Gold Star families will be honored Thursday, Sept. 27 in Wildwood Crest. Prior to that event, there will be a flag ceremony l at 6 p.m. on Sunset Beach in Cape May.

Friday night’s accommodations are being provided by the American Legion in Ocean City and Simpson said the following donated to accommodate the team: Matador Oceanfront Resort in North Wildwood, Bolero Resort and Conference Center in Wildwood, Capri Motor Lodge in Cape May, LaMer Beachfront Inn in Cape May, Ocean Club Hotel in Cape May and Blue Palms Hotel in Wildwood.

For information about this year’s run seewww.njrunforthefallen.org/2012-run.html or Facebook.com/NJRFTF 

 

 


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