Run for the Fallen comes through Marion County

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Runners with Run for the Fallen pose at the midway point of the journey, near Attica in Marion County.

A cross-country run intended to honor the memories of those who have given their lives in service to our country cut its path through Marion County on June 11-12.
The Run for the Fallen began in 2008, when a team of runners trekked from Fort Irwin, Calif., to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The first day of the run was on Flag Day, June 14. They ran 3,800 miles – one for every member of the service lost since the War on Terror began.
Since that first run, over 200,000 miles have been run by over 50,000 participants across the country. This year’s run began on April 7, and by the time it ends, it will cover over 6,000 miles in 19 states. A marker is placed on every mile of the run to call out loud the names of individual fallen military members. The fallen are recognized in order of their deaths.
The midpoint of the 2018 run came near Attica on June 12. Runners first made it to Marion County in Pleasantville the evening of April 11. Though runners originally expected to stay at the National Guard Armory in Knoxville, it did not pan out. Instead, American Legion Post 108 member Gordy Mecham opened his home to 14 guests.
Mecham said he was glad to welcome them inside for a good dinner and a beer.
The next morning, several members of the post woke early to prepare breakfast for those making the cross-country trek, volunteers and those runners who chose to take part in only the June 12 leg of the run. Runners including John Carter of Oskaloosa and Peg Ernst of Kirksville, Mo.
“I think it’s an honor to do a small gesture to thank our service members and families who sacrifice a lot,” Ernst said. Ernst is a nurse practitioner at the Northeast Regional Medical Center in Kirksville. She had never taken part in the Run for the Fallen, but heard about the run from Liz and Bill Schiller of Ottumwa. The Schillers are a Gold Star Family, who lost their son Corporal John Schiller.
“It’s the least I could do to show respect,” Carter said. Carter, of Oskaloosa, worked with John Schiller’s father. Carter is employed at Re/Max of Oskaloosa and Ottumwa. He took part in a ceremony June 12 to honor the Schillers as a Gold Star Family.
“Every stop’s unique in its own way,” added Joshua Jorgensen of Adel. Jorgensen uses his running hobby to routinely advocate for veterans and veteran causes. He had previously run the leg from Omaha, Neb.
“We do runs like this at home,” Wynona P. Larson of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Arizona said. Larson had flown in to Kansas City to join the run in Topeka. She intended to run with the group through Indianapolis.
A Marine Sergeant who served from 1992-98, Larson said she knows how it feels to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Today, she owns a construction company and teachers the culture of her tribe to middle school children. She was only able to take part in the run in the month of June.
“The people have been really unbelievable,” Larson said of the many VFW posts they have visited. “the support has been amazing.” She was also glad to see the Patriot Guard riders who had made the early trek to Pleasantville to help guide their run.
“I’m really grateful they’re with us,” she said.
As this is the tenth anniversary of the run, Larson really wanted to be sure to take part in it this year. She has been humbled by the support shown to veterans such as herself and believes it is because of the cause.
“It’s for a specific purpose,” she said. “Sacred and important.” Many don’t realize how many servicemembers America has lost since 9/11, Larson added.
“My fallen hero is not going to be forgotten,” added Jody Rainsate, Iowa Director for the run. She lost her brother, Marine Sgt. Rocky Littlewind, to Post-Traumatic Stress 19 months ago.
“There are people who know what I’m going through,” Ransate added. Through every town on the journey, she has found Americans eager to embrace the support for veterans. Along the way, those making the run have come together as a family, she added.
“It doesn’t matter where we’re at,” Rainsate added. She was grateful for the Legion’s willingness to open their doors.
The runners and their brigade were joined by the Iowa State Patrol and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office as well. Rainsate was hopeful the towns they were going to visit would come out and show their support, but regardless of the number – large or small – it is still a group of people who are aware of the cause. Friendship and fellowship do not have quotas.
Honoring veterans and Gold Star Families is what the organization is all about, Rainsate said. The organization presents flags to these families, as well as providing other support. All of this can be expensive, and the organization depends upon donations. For more information, visit www.runforthefallen.org.