Today, remember Memorial Day’s true meaning. I honored the day with a run.

Vanessa Junkin holding out a piece of paper that says "I run for U.S. Army Private First Class Richard W. Hafer KIA 11/15/03."
I carried this piece of paper with me during today’s run.

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.

Wicomico War Veterans Memorial outside the Wicomico Civic Center. The memorial reads, "Here we mark the price of freedom," with plaques above.
Wicomico County veterans killed in action are listed at this memorial outside the Wicomico Civic Center.

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.

Marker with a small cross behind it and American flag near it. The marker reads: 
In Memory Of
Maj. Richard W. Cooper Jr. 
Nov 18 1942
Dec 19 1972
A marker for Major Richard Waller Cooper Jr. can be found 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).

Grave with American flag by it. 
It reads: 
LTJG Joseph H. Gollner, USN
Born March 7, 1927
Killed Jan. 11, 1952
Korean War
His body rests in his plane on 
the bottom of the Japan Sea
Lat 38-23 N, Long 128-53 E
The grave of Lieutenant Junior Grade Joseph Henry Gollner is located in Parsons Cemetery.

Read more about Waller here and about Gollner here. Parsons Cemetery also put up a post honoring those who were killed while serving our country, which can be found here.

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: 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.

A grave with an American flag by it: 
It reads: 
LTJG Howard Franklin Clark USN
Born September 15, 1914 
Lost at Sea in Aerial Combat
Battle of Coral Sea
May 8, 1942
The grave of Lieutenant Junior Grade Howard Franklin Clark is located in Parsons Cemetery.

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.

Photo of Wicomico Civic Center with Memorial Day message on marquee that reads "This Memorial Day, remember those who died serving the USA," with "Ceremony postponed to a later date," in smaller font.
A Memorial Day message is shown on the Wicomico Civic Center marquee.

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.

Photo that says "Learn their Stories," "Speak their Names," "Honor their Legacies," along with "Private First Class Richard W. Hafer, 15 November 2003, 21 years old." It also has a photo of Hafer and the logos of wear blue: run to remember and Team RWB.
I ran in honor of Pfc. Richard W. Hafer. (Image provided by wear blue: run to remember.)

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).

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