War is hell, as is the aftermath for the loved ones of those who have fallen.
But for some, running has charted a course to healing and wholeness. A national movement, wear blue: run to remember, works to honor the fallen and help loved ones heal in the process through organized runs all over America.
Lisa Hallett, co-founder of wear blue, needed a way to move through her grief when her husband, Capt. John Hallett, and other members of the Army's 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, were killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2009. Hallett and his men were on a humanitarian mission to aid a village suffering a cholera outbreak.
Amy Bushatz, managing editor of Military.com's Family and Spouse channel as well as military spouse and a veterans advocate, participated in this year's Marine Corps Marathon for wear blue: run to remember. She ran to honor Electrician’s Mate First Class James C. Mitchell Jr., who was killed in Vietnam on Jan. 8, 1970, less than a month before he was scheduled to come home.
Bushatz's husband, an officer in the Army National Guard, served with Hallett, and is one of the reasons why she ran in support of wear blue.
"For me, wear blue is about two closely related things: giving me a way to deal with the loss my family has experienced through military service, and giving me a 'why' for running," she said. "When I run the Marine Corps Marathon, it's specifically so that I can experience the wear blue mile -- an about one-mile stretch of the course lined with posters of faces of the fallen, followed by volunteers holding flags in those troops' honor."
Bushatz knows about loss and grief. Her husband's unit lost more than 20 soldiers, many of them close friends. That kind of loss leaves a legacy of grief and suffering for those left behind. Running to remember can make a real difference.
"I reconnected with Susan Mitchell-Mattera, the daughter of [Mitchell].," Bushatz said. "I asked if she would be OK with me running for her dad. … Not only was she OK with it, she's flying to D.C. from California to hold a flag in his honor on the wear blue mile."
After the marathon, Mitchell-Mattera will take the flag to Vietnam as part of The 2 Sides Project, which connects the children of Vietnamese who died in the war with the children of fallen Americans.
The wear blue movement has blossomed into a robust national movement that organizes runs all over the country, including this year's Marine Corps Marathon.
At the start of wear blue runs, the name of each U.S. military member killed on that weekend over the last 13 years of war is called out in a Circle of Remembrance. wear blue runners call out the names of those for whom they personally run -- their husbands, wives, parents, siblings, battle buddies, neighbors and/or friends.
At official wear blue events, American flags line the course to honor the fallen, a tribute called the wear blue mile. Each flag is hand-held, making it a true living memorial. Each flag is held in honor of a fallen service member also memorialized on a nearby parade of posters. The wear blue mile humanizes the ultimate sacrifice made by these American heroes.
Dealing with the loss of loved ones who died defending this country is not like flipping a switch, Bushatz said. It takes a lifetime of action.
"We need to remember through action and through how we live," she said. "For me, that is symbolized by doing hard things like running a marathon with a flag. It's not supposed to be easy or pleasant. It's supposed to be hard because grief and loss are hard. It's also supposed to be rewarding, the same way post-traumatic growth and moving through grief is rewarding."
wear blue: run to remember is a national nonprofit running community that honors the service and sacrifice of the American military. It creates a support network for military members and their families, bridges the gap between military and civilian communities, and creates a living memorial for our country's fallen military members. The organization exists for the fallen, for the fighting and for the families. Learn more at http://www.wearblueruntoremember.org/.