Pearl Harbor-Hickam Field, Hawaii - Active duty military service members, veterans, families and volunteers participated in the 2014 Tripler Fisher House 8K Hero & Remembrance Run, Walk or Roll Saturday, on Ford Island, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The event honored fallen service members who lost their lives in combat, training or exercises, as well as suicides or accidents since the September 11, 2001 attacks. The run included boots, with attached photo identification, for each of more than 7,000 fallen service members.
These boots lined both sides of the road around the Ford Island historic runway as well as the Adm. Clarey Bridge (Ford Island Bridge).
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Rendon, director, Joint Interagency Task Force West, offered his words of support and appreciation as a guest speaker, the Marine Forces Pacific Band provided musical support and performed "Taps," and the U.S. Air Force rifle detail provided a gun salute prior to the run.
"It's all volunteers, it is not a funded event," said Theresa Johnson, a former Tripler Fisher House manager and military spouse. "These boots came from all over Oahu, all [military] branches and some were mailed in. The goal [being] one boot for each person."
The idea for such a run came to Johnson, as in many cases, through personal experiences. A childhood friend of her son was killed while on deployment. Keeping the family of the fallen in mind and, as her own son prepared for his deployment, Johnson thought "Everyone in Hawaii runs, so we wanted to do a run that is very unique. I didn't want to honor just Tim (family friend), if you honor one - you honor them all, and that is where idea started... I am so proud of the community that reached out to help us. Hundreds of people made this happen."
With determination and help of families who went through the loss of loved ones, the first run was organized in 2012. "We thought we will get these boots out here, and bring back the names and faces; because it's been so long since we've been at war, it [became] just another number," said Johnson. "We have spouses, moms and dads [who went through a loss], so you can't help but to know that behind that boot there is a picture that has a family."
According to Johnson, the run also helps raise awareness for Fisher Houses across the military bases.
"We wanted to raise awareness for Fisher Houses and let families know that we're here, who we serve and how we can help them," she said.
Motorcycle riders, including active duty service members, veterans and family members, opened the run with patriot guard style escort, and later greeted, motivated and handed out bottles of water to each runner as they were nearing the finishing line.
One of the riders was U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Atchley, who went through several deployments, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffered a loss of one of his best friends, Army Spc. Dennis Samson Jr., who lost his life in 2006 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"We came out to show support to the families of the fallen, and in remembrance of those who gave an ultimate sacrifice - their lives - for their country and for the brothers to their left and their right," said Atchley, as he adjusted a flag on a boot with his friend's photo. "It is nice to see that there are so many people that still care about what we are doing today in the military."
Among several military units that participated in the event, chief petty officer selects, graduates of the 2014 Battleship Missouri Memorial CPO Legacy Academy, and their mentors ran in formations in remembrance of the fellow Sailors.
"Running this event for the first time and doing it with my fellow selectees - is really an amazing experience," said Chief (select) Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) Aneulena Candelaria. "With all the boots out here, instead of just a number, we see the names and the photos of all the people who gave their lives for our freedom."
Running in formation, Candelaria did not have a chance to stop and look for a boot representing Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 1st Class Michael Strange, who died in a helicopter crash Aug. 6, 2011 in Afghanistan, and was hoping to locate it later among thousands of others.
Upon completion of the run, the boots where collected and lined up in rows on the runway field in order for everyone in attendance, and for the visitors to the island, to pay their respects and commemorate the fallen.
"The first year, you spend a lot of time 'choked up' but, as the years have passed, those tears of sadness have become tears of pride," said Johnson. "It is so amazing to have people stop, take a picture, talk and share their story."
The Tripler Fisher House is located behind the Tripler Army Medical Center. A Fisher House is "a home away from home" for veterans and military families of patients receiving treatment at military medical centers. The Tripler Fisher House is one of 65 Fisher Houses located on 23 military installations and 24 VA medical centers across the nation.