AUGUSTA, Maine — For most Mainers, Aug. 19 was a typical Sunday morning, some slept in, others went to church. But for a few hundred it was a day of remembrance.
That morning, the name of each Maine military service member killed since Sept. 11, 2011. was read, one-by-one, followed by the toll of a bell, then a moment of silence. This ritual was enacted 81 times.
Families from across Maine gathered in Ogunquit, Maine, to watch the start of the fifth annual Run for the Fallen, a tribute race stretching 65-kilometers, approximately 40 miles, from its start in Ogunquit to the finish line at the Ocean Gateway in Portland, Maine. Each kilometer was dedicated to a fallen military member.
At kilometer 16, Paul and Dee House stood next to the placard commemorating their son, Sgt. Joel House, killed in Iraq in 2007.
“We’re grateful that people will remember those fallen, and not forget them,” said Paul House. “Freedom isn’t free as we know, and this is another way to let the public know what has been done and to remind them that every picture is a loss.”
Before the runners arrived at the House’s marker, members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a national motorcycle group dedicated to supporting military veterans and their families, pulled their bikes over, each rider in turn saying a few words to the family, offering a handshake or a hug. Then they mounted their bikes and continued down the course, stopping at each marker.
“It helps you realize that you’re not alone,” said House. “I’ll be walking our son’s kilometer.”
When the runners showed up, the lead vehicle stopped and an announcer read the name of Sgt. House and a few words about him, followed by a moment of silence. The runners regrouped and set off again, this time with a few fresh runners, and one devoted father. The same scene played at every memorial marker.
The group gained momentum in its last few kilometers. State troopers cleared a lane of traffic in Portland’s Old Port for the runners, while people on the sidewalk stopped and cheered the participants moving down the street. As a reminder of the 40-mile journey, placards for all 81 fallen military members were arrayed on each side of the final stretch to the finish line,.
Soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard lined the rest of the pathway, encouraging the runners in their final effort to the finish line and the cheering crowd of family, friends and supporters.
At the end of the course were a many congratulations and pats on the back, but the true accomplishment was for the families.
The run lets the families know that we still care about them, what they gave and their sacrifice, said Staff Sgt. Crystal Ryder, a support volunteer for the race from the 286 Combat Support Sustainment Battalion.
Paul House said, “It’s to honor those that have sacrificed their lives, to remember them and to never forget, for the families it’s a time to see each other and talk about our sons and daughters.”