FORT GORDON, Ga. -- Fort Gordon Marines and Sailors began a 10-day tribute to their fallen comrades Oct. 29 in an opening ceremony held on Barton Field. The ninth annual United States Marine Corps Tribute to the Fallen Run commemorates the 1,500 Marines and Navy medical corpsmen who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
The tribute began in 2005 by Gunnery Sgt. James Meek of the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment on Fort Gordon. Now retired and working as a civilian in Suwanee, Ga., he comes out annually with his family to show his support and run the last lap with Marines and Sailors at the last day of the tribute.
"It's great to see the tribute continue another year," said Meek
"For the next ten days these Marines will tell a story. It's a story of extraordinary courage, determination and sacrifice; a story of honor and unselfishness. It's a tale of great sorrow and happiness, pain and joy, heroism and brotherhood," said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Grenz, with the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment.
"This story cannot be spoken and won't be told with words, but through their actions; with blisters, sore muscles, sweat, tears and the sound of feet hitting dirt thousands of times over without interruption," said Grenz.
"This is a story of Pvt. Jonathon L. Gifford, Sgt. Alan D. Sherman, Gunnery Sgt. Javier Obleas-Praado Pena, Lt. Col. David S. Greene, Petty Officer 2nd Class Caesar O. Baez, and 1,420 other Marines and Navy corpsmen who have given their lives in the defiance of tyranny. These men and women came from all walks of life, a variety of races and religions," said Grenz. "They ranged from ages 18 to 45, and came from our 50 states, America Samoa, Guam, District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico."
"Today we run for them. We will run in the heat of the Georgia sun and in the frigid darkness of the autumn night. For the next ten days, we will run through the dust, wind, rain, sleet and mud. With heavy thoughts and heavy hearts we will run. At 0300 [3 o'clock] in the morning, when most of the country is [sound asleep and] dreaming, we will run. For those who said goodbye and saw their loved ones leave to serve their country with a smile, not knowing it would be the last smile they would see, we will run. We will run 1,500 miles non-stop [24/7 during the 10-day tribute] for our fallen comrades, the same distance from here to El Paso, Texas celebrating their lives and honoring their sacrifice, but most important to let them know…we have not forgotten! For our Marines and Navy [medical] corpsmen who have sacrificed everything, our warriors, our heroes, we run…Semper Fidelis."
"First of all, 1,500 miles is a long run, but it's worth it," said Capt. Dallas Butler, the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment commander. "1,500 Marines and Sailors have paid the ultimate sacrifice since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Each with their own unique story of service and sacrifice, and we're here to honor them each by name."
"I just want to thank each of our Marines for their service and for volunteering to take part in this year's tribute run," he said.
Lance Cpl. Caleb Kempf was the first runner in the tribute. He stepped forward to receive the 21-rounds of ammo housed in an ammo pouch from Butler and then took off on his three-mile journey. He ran to honor Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Betrand, age 23, of Coos Bay, Ore.; Sgt. Nathan P. Hays, age 21, of Wilbur, Washington; and Capt. Matthew W. Bancroft, age 29, of Redding , Calif. They were all assigned to Marine Aerial Transport Refueler Squadron 352, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. and killed in a refueling tanker crash, Jan. 9, 2002, in Pakistan.
Kempf said, "It a little something I can do because they have given so much."