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26-mile military march honors fallen service members

Christopher Cousins | BDN
Christopher Cousins | BDN
Maine-based members of various branches of the military near the end of a 26.2-mile march Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011, during the annual Maine Marathon Tribute March in the Portland area.
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — There are big sacrifices and little ones.

A little sacrifice is giving up a Sunday to march more than 26 miles in the pouring rain carrying a pack that becomes heavier with every step. A big sacrifice is a member of the armed services giving his or her life in combat, as 79 Mainers have since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

To commemorate those ultimate sacrifices, a few dozen service members from Maine and a few from New Hampshire set off from Baxter Boulevard in Portland before 5:30 a.m. Sunday, following the route of the annual Maine marathon, which began later in the day. In the six years of the event, according to organizers, Sunday was the first time the march encountered rain.

And lots of it.

“These guys have maintained this blistering pace all day,” said Staff Sgt. Darrell Stevens, chief warrant officer for the Maine National Guard, who walked with the procession for part of the time.

As the march reached Portland’s Payson Park, it came to a rare halt to join formation with several dozen friends and family members of fallen service members. With many wearing buttons or ribbons bearing the names of the fallen soldiers and sailors, they made their way together for the final two miles of the marathon route, walking through the finish line to raucous cheers and blaring patriotic music. It was an emotional scene.

“It humbles me,” said Marianne Davis of Saco, wiping away tears as she watched the soldiers and families march by. “All these people have given so much.”

Army Spc. Wade Alan Slack, 21, of Waterville died in Afghanistan on May 6, 2010. His father, Alan, and his brother, Jonathan, were among the families participating in Sunday’s march.

“It’s nice to know people who don’t forget,” said Alan Slack of his fallen son. “I really appreciate the fact that there are members of all branches of the military here.”

Though there are many ways that Maine’s military families can commemorate fallen soldiers — including the annual Run for the Fallen in the Ogunquit area — those opportunities can seem precious and few to families who suffer the loss of their loved one every day, said Mary O’Mara, one of the coordinators of Survivor Outreach Services, which links military families who have lost members in armed conflicts.

“A lot of people don’t realize how many are dying,” said O’Mara. “The media doesn’t pay enough attention but the Department of Defense is putting out notices every day.”

Staff Sgt. Timothy MacArthur of the Maine Army National Guard is one of the people who makes the event happen.

“It’s so special to be able to march with these families,” said MacArthur, unshouldering a soaked and bulky pack he’d just carried more than 26 miles. “It helps us let them know that their loved ones have not been forgotten.”

Jacob Field, a teenager from Wiscasset, hasn’t lost a family member to war, though his father is in the National Guard. Still, Field volunteered to serve drinks and refreshments along the march route. Why would he give up his Sunday for this?

“I just thought it was worth it,” he said.

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