It’s important to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day, and wear blue: run to remember is making sure that the lives of those who have died serving the United States of America — including 7,030 people since 9/11/01 — are not forgotten.
I signed up to run in honor of a fallen service member, like I did last year. This year, I received the name of Army Pfc. Richard “Rick” W. Hafer, who was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq on Nov. 15, 2003, at age 21, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The information included with his bio on the MilitaryTimes website noted that he was 6 feet 5 inches tall and 275 pounds, a former football player. I thought about what we would look like running together, since I’m only 5 feet tall.
Read more about him here. The wear blue: run to remember organization provided a bib we could print out, but my printer doesn’t work that well, so I wrote Hafer’s name, rank and date of death on a piece of paper and carried it with me throughout my 10K run.
After seeing a Parsons Cemetery Facebook post yesterday about an airman from Salisbury who was missing in action for 31 years, Major Richard Waller Cooper Jr., I decided to make Parsons Cemetery part of my route. Cooper is buried in Arlington National Cemetery but also honored in Parsons Cemetery.
Looking at Cooper’s marker, I realized he was only 30, the age I will turn later this year.
Note: I say graves below, but it appears their bodies were not recovered.
I stopped by the grave of another Salisbury native, Lieutenant Junior Grade Joseph H. Gollner of the U.S. Navy, who was killed during the Korean War. He was only 24, and, coincidentally, born on my anniversary with my boyfriend (we would get together 83 years later).
I also saw the grave of Lieutenant Junior Grade Howard Franklin Clark of Salisbury. He served in the Navy. With a quick Google search, I found that he was a runner who participated in cross country and track (source: USNAMemorialHall.org). That source led me to the 1938 yearbook from the Naval Academy — see Clark, also known as “Red” and “Spud,” on page 70. He was only 27 when he was killed.
There is a map at the entrance to Parsons Cemetery, and you can learn more about the cemetery and the Military Walking Tour here.
My mile that included my time in the cemetery was about 24 minutes — I also visited a couple other military graves, but I realized those people were not killed in the line of duty. Veterans’ graves were marked with American flags.
I’d been trying to run hard at times because I felt like I should give at least some of the run a hard effort, but I also wasn’t racing or competing, and I wanted to spend some time finding graves of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
I started my run by heading to the Wicomico Civic Center, where I made a Memorial Day slide for the marquee as part of my job. The Wicomico War Veterans’ Memorial is also outside the Civic Center, and I ran through that, stopping briefly.
During the run, I listened to messages that were put together for the virtual event — primarily from the loved ones of fallen service members — on the Motigo app. I didn’t listen to anything else as I thought about Hafer and the meaning of Memorial Day. This may have been done for the virtual event, but I hope wear blue: run to remember will do this again; it made the run even more meaningful.
The first message on the recording was from Kristin Johnson, who lost her husband, Army Cpl. Joshua Harmon, 20, in 2007. I interviewed her for a RunWashington story on wear blue: run to remember. Normally, there are in-person runs on Memorial Day, but because of COVID-19, the entire effort was virtual this year. People can also run on their own, like I did last year.
There was also a message on the recording from the familiar voice of Meb Keflezighi.
It appears that you can still sign up to run in honor of a fallen hero. If you’re interested, visit the wear blue: run to remember website. The organization also partnered with Team RWB for this effort (and if you’d like to do more reading, I also wrote about an active member of Team RWB for RunWashington).