Friday, August 27, 2010

Run for the Fallen: Honoring Maine’s Deceased War Heroes and their Families

By Scott Andrews
and Larry Favinger

Staff Columnists
Former President George W. Bush joined several hundred who gathered Sunday for a lobster bake at Fort Williams Park, the culmination of the third annual Run For The Fallen, a yearly event that commemorates the 65 Maine soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan and honors their families.
The 65-kilometer run began early Sunday morning in Ogunquit and wrapped up by mid-afternoon at Monument Square in Portland. Each kilometer of the route was dedicated to one of the fallen: 64 men and one woman who died in the military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001. A souvenir program book, titled “Maine’s Fallen Heroes,” provided photos and written vignettes of the 65 soldiers.
Nearly 300 family members and loved ones participated in Sunday’s gathering. They were joined by several hundred friends, well-wishers and sympathetic Mainers.
The principal organizers of the Run For The Fallen hail from Ogunquit. “The purpose of this event is to honor the fallen heroes of Maine and to honor their families,” said chief organizer John Mixon.
Gordon Lewis, a volunteer from Ogunquit, pointed out that because of Maine’s large geographic spread, some family members of the 65 soldiers find it difficult to share their grief with others in the same situation. Each year the Run For The Fallen helps family make connections with others to bridge that emotional gap.
Some drove from Aroostook County and other distant cities and town. “By bringing these families together we are able to show our support and give honor to their fallen loved ones,” said Lewis.
Earlier Sunday morning Veterans Park in Ogunquit was covered with memorials to the 64 men and one woman with Maine connections that have given their lives in the battle against terrorism. There were approximately 200 runners who left Ogunquit shortly after 8 a.m., including Steven DeSalvo of Ogunquit, an Army veteran of Desert Storm.
He said he was taking part to “pay respect” to those who have been killed and to further “show respect for their families.”
Due to the length of the run, the group of runners was escorted by two trolleys in which participants could hitch a ride until ready to run again. The escort also included an ambulance and police cruisers in front and back.
“This is not a race,” the runners were told prior to the start of the run. “The whole point is to stay fresh” and “stay together” for the trek up Route 1 to Portland.
DeSalvo said he felt the run was an “awesome” idea and he was “going to try to make it the whole way” if at all possible.
The short opening ceremonies included the reading of the names of each of the fallen, followed by the single ring of a bell. There was also a 21-gun salute and the singing of the national anthem.
Bush, who ordered the American military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, was an unannounced guest at the Cape Elizabeth event. He and wife Laura arrived shortly after the lobster bake began and were warmly welcomed by all. The Bushes greeted and hugged hundreds of grieving family members plus many U.S. military veterans.
“I don’t miss the presidency,” Bush remarked. “But I do miss being commander-in-chief of these great troops.”
Photo caption: In Ogunquit’s Veterans Park, memorials to each of Maine’s fallen soldiers were placed for the opening ceremony. (Larry Favinger photo)