Conducted by active and retired military, Gold and Blue Star families and military support groups, it was the first California edition of the California Run for the Fallen since the event was launched in 2008 with a trek from Fort Irwin in Southern California to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Events have continued since, totaling 150,000 miles run so far.
The run included placement of flags, one mile apart, bearing a photo and information for each Californian who has died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The goal is to “rejuvenate their memories and keep their spirits alive; to support organizations that aid California Gold Star Families, and to aid in the healing process for those families whose lives have been affected by combatant or non-combatant situations.”
Gathered awaiting the runners in precisely laid out locations along the way were veterans, patriots, and families and loved ones of those being honored in that location.
“It’s truly an honor that so many people put so much effort into doing this," said Natalie Tollefson, whose husband, U.S. Army Pfc. Benjamin Tollefson, died in Iraq in Iraq in 2008. His 5-year-old son, Mac; his mother, Mary; and Natalie’s parents were also on hand. “It’s a reminder (of a tragic loss), but it also gives us a real sense of pride. It’s good to remember.”
Kevin Graves of Discovery Bay, father of U.S. Army Spc. Joey Graves, who died in Iraq in 2006, helped organize the run and rode as part of the motorcycle escort for the runners. He also helped honor is son at Honor Marker 97 along Byron Highway near Highway 4.
“It’s amazing, the dedication of the active duty personnel and the veterans who planned this, ran 150 miles and supported them (the runners) along the way,” said Graves. “There’s no way to say how much this means to Gold Star families.”
For Melanie Carter, however, the morning involved no planning at all. She happened upon Honor Marker 106 just minutes before the runners arrived, heard the names of U.S. Marines Lance Cpl. Erick Hodges and Marine Gunnery Sgt. Justin Schmalstieg read aloud, saw the flags posted and saluted, and watched as the runners headed off to resume their journey only minutes after they had arrived.
“Wow, they weren’t here very long,” Carter said as the caravan moved out. Then, nodding toward the two memorial flags left behind, swaying slightly in a breeze, she added, “But I guess they weren’t either.”
For more photos from the California Run for the Fallen, click here.