Whether in memory of a loved one or in honor of those who have fallen – they ran. More than 500 runners and walkers took a few moments to honor the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
“It’s honoring those who have made a sacrifice,” explained event organizer John Hamilton, chief of fitness, athletics and aquatics for Fort Hood. “It’s mothers, brothers, daughters, fathers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins – it affects so many of us.”
Fort Hood’s sixth annual Remembrance 5K Run/Walk took place at 7 a.m. Saturday on Sadowski Parade Field, with 513 walkers and runners participating in the annual event. Beginning Friday, the boots of an estimated 7,700 service members who have passed away since Sept. 11, 2001, were placed along the route of the 5K, a visual reminder for the participants about the importance of why they run.
“I think it’s important to take a moment to look back at all the ones who sacrificed everything for our country,” Sgt. Devante McLeon, a runner with 62nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, said.
While some runners were running to pay homage to all those who came before them, others were running in memory of a loved one or battle buddy. 1st Lt. Lauren McGettrick, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, said she was running in honor of a Soldier she recently lost. As she passed through the boots, McGettrick admitted it made her emotional.
“Basically, they gave everything so I could run a little bit faster,” McGettrick said. “What I was going through wasn’t as bad as what they’ve given up.”
In remarks before the run, Col. Hank Perry, III Corps chief of staff, reminded the participants about the recent loss of Fort Hood Soldier Sgt. James Johnston, who was killed June 25 in Afghanistan. Johnston was assigned to 79th Ordnance Battalion, 71st Ordnance Group.
“Today, as I personally run this route, I’m gonna remember him and I’m gonna take the time to stop at a couple of the boots and I’m gonna remember those individuals who have paid the price,” Perry said.
Following the 5K, 129 volunteers helped move the boots from along the route to Sadowski Parade Field, where they will remain on display through July 7. Hamilton said the volunteers were comprised of Soldiers, Gold Star Family members and members of the community who felt led to give back in some small way.
“No one person could pull something like this off,” Hamilton said about the team effort it took to organize the run and boot display. “It takes a lot of motivated individuals – a garrison coming together as a community.”
The boots are organized by year, unless loved ones have requested otherwise. The display also includes a dog kennel donated by the Fort Hood K-9 Unit in honor of the K-9s who have given their lives. Before the run had even started, Hamilton said boots were being tied together. He said boots of close friends are often tied together or those of Soldiers who were killed in action together.
Hamilton encouraged everyone to pay their respects to the troops they have lost. Although the tribute once took place around Memorial Day, it was moved to the week of Independence Day so Gold Star Family members could have a better opportunity to attend. Gold Star Families are relatives of troops who have been killed in action.
Hamilton said watching Family members, loved ones and fellow Soldiers honor their fallen comrades since the boots were set out has been touching. He has witnessed loved ones leaving flowers, notes and other mementos with the boots of their loved ones, and watched a Soldier sitting by the boot of a friend, having a drink in memory.
“It’s that sentimental piece,” Hamilton added. “It’s about that introspection and reflection and it’s that opportunity to realize where we’ve came from in that last decade and beyond.”
Perry encouraged Families, friends and loved ones to come out and honor those who have paid the ultimate price, before heading into the Independence Day weekend.
“Walk through the lines, the rows of boots and remember those who have paid the price for our freedom,” Perry said.
The boots will be on display through July 7. Visitors may access Sadowski Parade Field from Tank Destroyer Boulevard. The access point is halfway between T.J. Mills Boulevard and Wratten Drive. Visitors may also park in the large parking lot in front of III Corps Headquarters and walk to the boot memorial.