I never served in the armed forces, but both of my parents did. My dad was an officer aboard the U.S.S. Forrestal, an aircraft carrier, and my mom was a Naval nurse. They met in the Navy, and even …
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I never served in the armed forces, but both of my parents did. My dad was an officer aboard the U.S.S. Forrestal, an aircraft carrier, and my mom was a Naval nurse. They met in the Navy, and even though neither saw active wartime duty, both took their service seriously.
I think about their quiet commitment, and the commitment of others, every Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and thought about it particularly hard this past weekend after seeing the new movie “Midway” (which I recommend strongly). The unyielding, uncompromising placing of country ahead of self by so many servicemen and women is what has kept America’s liberties — and greatness — intact for so long.
Still, sometimes it’s hard to focus on those sacrifices and find ways to honor them appropriately. After seeing “Midway,” and having reinforced how selfless our soldiers have been throughout history, I was also reminded of someone I met recently totally by chance who, in fact, did find an appropriate way to honor a veteran.
It was Memorial Day’s eve last year, a muggy Sunday evening, and I was driving alone to meet the rest of my family for dinner. Along the way, I passed a woman named Barbara Garcia. Barbara spent 30 years in the Army — six in active service and another 24 in the Army reserves — and never deployed. But on this night, she was on duty: carrying a large U.S. flag along Pendergrass Road in rural Lee County during a six-mile run in memory of a fallen soldier she never met — Army Pfc. Jason Dore, who was killed while on patrol in a roadside bombing in Iraq 12 years ago.
After seeing her, I did a U-turn while calling my son Addison to say I’d be a tad late for supper. I pulled up beside Barbara to see if she needed some water. I regularly ride my bike on that road and in the heat, so I knew she was exerting herself; I wanted to see if she needed a drink or anything else.
I remember her telling me that she wasn’t looking for publicity and didn’t want her name in any newspaper, despite my pleas to her that her effort — a woman of a certain age running on an oppressively sultry night, carrying a large flag in the very best recognition of Memorial Day I could imagine — was certainly story-worthy.
“This isn’t about me,” she said. “It’s about our fallen servicemen and women.”
Barbara was running as part of “Wear Blue – Run to Remember,” a non-profit organization founded by two Army wives, Lisa Hallett and Erin O’Connor. The pair were avid runners; Lisa’s husband, Capt. John Hallett, was killed on Aug. 25, 2009, while returning from a goodwill mission in Southern Afghanistan. Lisa’s and Erin’s vision afterward was to create a “Wear Blue” running community to honor the service and sacrifice of the American military. According to its website, the organization “creates a support network for military members and their families; it bridges the gap between military and civilian communities and it creates a living memorial for our country’s fallen military members.”
Each year some 10,000 “Wear Blue” runners run 40,000 miles, each runner bearing the name of a soldier killed in battle
It exists, the website says, “For the fallen. For the fighting. For the families.” Barbara has been running for Wear Blue – Run to Remember for a few years now. She downplayed her six-mile run that night, saying she’d done a 13-mile run the year before.
She wore a vest with Jason’s name and date and place of death written under large “I RUN FOR” lettering, and she told me she hadn’t known him, but was honoring him, and remembering and thinking about him, this night.
Jason was just 25 when he fell eight months into his first tour of duty in Iraq, killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad on July 8, 2007. Just two weeks prior to his death, Jason had re-enlisted for a second three-year stint in the Army. The guest book on the condolence page from his obituary on the funeral home’s website continued to be active three years after his death. Those who knew Jason wrote moving tributes; many who didn’t know him wrote to offer their thanks for his service.
Barbara was making sure he was being remembered.
I read over the weekend that North Carolina has the fourth-largest active-duty military population in the United States. A 2015 report by the N.C. Dept. of Commerce says the defense industry accounts for 10 percent of N.C.’s economic activity — the state’s second-largest sector, behind agriculture. All told, the military in North Carolina alone supports 540,000 jobs and contributes more than $30 billion in personal income to residents.
But you can’t put a measure, or a dollar value, on the service so many have contributed.
Veterans Day is over. Memorial Day is six months away. I’m writing this in hopes that, in between times, we never forget Jason’s sacrifice, nor those of the other American soldiers who have served and died in military service.
A friend remarked in church this weekend that Veterans Day isn’t a holiday. It’s a day of remembrance. Remember Jason today, or honor someone served with your attention. Their sacrifices are worthy of our focus this and every day.