One of the organizations that I work closely with is the Arkansas Run for the Fallen. We have teams of active duty runners relay across the state, running one mile for each Arkansan killed while serving our country since September 11, 2001. At the end of each mile the runners stop and read a brief biography of the fallen hero, placing a small flag and biography card in the ground. They then salute and continue on to the next one.
As you can imagine, this is a massive undertaking, we honor 143 men and women. The logistics and manpower required is nothing compared to the sacrifice these heroes and their families have made.
This will be the 5th year that we have made the journey, but only the 3rd time I have gone the full distance. Each year I have become more and more involved. After so much time looking and reading about these heroes, getting to know these Gold Star families and hearing stories of their lives, I feel like I know many them. (A Gold Star family is a family that has lost a family member in service of the country.)
The most amazing part to me is the strength and resolve the families show. I cannot imagine having men in uniform knocking on my door to say “We regret to inform you…”. Yet these mothers, wives, brothers and sisters have taken that moment of horror and turned it around. Instead of letting that moment define who they are, they let it drive them to become better people by using it to honor their loved one.
I’ve known people who have let a major loss in their life define their existence, everything suddenly revolves around that loss. Their life becomes a story of woe and despair due to it. Pity becomes a way of living to them.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are these Gold Star families. It seems their loss, while painful, is turned into a positive. The military offers Bronze and Silver stars for gallantry, but I never understood why there was no Gold star offered. That is until I learned what a Gold Star family is and got to know several of them. Their bravery in the face of loss is one of the greatest acts of courage I have seen.
For instance there is the family of 1st Lieutenant Tom Martin, who was killed in action on October 14, 2007 in Iraq started the Tom Martin Foundation to offer scholarships to a deserving student at Tom’s high school, help Tom’s former Boy Scout troop, and encourage race day volunteering. They sell t-shirts in his honor that say “Never Quit” on the front and “Keeping TIME” on the back. TIME standing for Tom In Mind Everywhere. They encourage people to take a picture of themselves doing amazing things while wearing the shirts and share the pictures through the website.
|My wife, Chris, and I in our Keeping TIME shirts|
Then there is the family of Navy SOC Adam Brown. Adam was, at one point in his life, a drug addict in the county jail. His family tried desperately help him turn his life around, but you can’t force someone to do this. Eventually he did turn things around. He managed to get into the Navy in spite of his past. Not only did he get into the Navy, he made it into the SEALs, eventually working his way up to SEAL Team Six.
Of course he did not advertise the drug addictions of his past to the other SEAL team members. He did, however, request that his story be told if something happen to him. On March 17, 2010 something did happen to him, he was killed in an operation in Afghanistan. His family has made sure that his life story has been used to inspire others, his story can be read in the book “Fearless” by Eric Blehm.
|The statue of Adam Brown in his home town of Hot Springs, AR|
While these are the two most prolific heroes we honor, they all are special. Their families all feel a great loss. As you read through the names, it’s easy to forget that these are more than just names, they are the titles of stories. We may feel that these stories were cut short, or maybe destiny had ordained them to a greater mission either way, we cannot forget these men and women.