STOCKTON — To them that’s gone.
As you’re out and about Saturday from Lodi to Stockton, Manteca to Tracy, you may see a lone runner or a small group running in matching T-shirts. One will be carrying a U.S. flag. They’re not in a race; they’re not practicing for anything. They’re on a mission.
It’s the fifth annual California Run for the Fallen. It’s organized out of Travis Air Force Base by runners and their supporters who seek to raise public awareness of the 756 California service members who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
“We know they’re running by an unsuspecting public. That’s the purpose of this, to bring attention to the sacrifice and to honor each and every fallen hero in the state of California,” said Gold Star Father Kevin Graves of Discovery Bay, whose only son, U.S. Army Spc. Joseph Graves, was killed in Baghdad, Iraq, on July 25, 2006, at the age of 21.
“Joey” was on an escort mission in the capital city when his team was hit by an improvised explosive device.
“They were ambushed. There was one casualty that day, and it was my son,” Graves said. “He was one of the good guys.”
The Northern California version of the Run for the Fallen is held over the next three days covering 150 miles from Elk Grove down through Tracy and back north to Dixon. At every mile, the runners will plant a flag with a biographical card about fallen service members from California. They will then call out the honorees’ names, render hand salutes and run on to the next mile. (For a map of each stop and who will be honored, visit CARunForTheFallen.org.)
“For some of these kids, it is the only time all year their name is called out in honor,” said Graves, who is serving as the volunteer run coordinator and helping organize sponsors for the run. His wife, Leianne Graves — “Six weeks before he deployed, Joey came back to be best man at our wedding” — is the volunteer in charge of logistics and finances.
“I live on those memories,” Kevin Graves said.
“Those that decide they will participate as runners or organizers, they seem to get a tremendous amount of service to the Gold Star families that they represent. Once they do it, they continue to be involved,” he said.
Graves couldn’t say enough about the volunteer effort to organize the Run for the Fallen by its director, Air Force Master Sgt. James McGarrity, and the personnel at Travis.
“As Gold Star parents, we are extremely grateful and supportive that these young service members would give so much time and energy to run in five-mile stints to honor service members and family members that most will never meet. But it is that important to them. Most if not all of the fallen are from other branches of the military; the Air Force has probably received the least amount of casualties,” Graves said.
On Saturday, runners will start at 7 a.m. on Lower Sacramento Road between Galt and Lodi. They will reach West Lane at approximately 9 a.m., traveling south for the next several hours on West Lane/Airport Way through Stockton and Manteca before heading west toward Tracy on Durham Ferry Road.
The public is welcome at any of the stops. Some will include special ceremonies. More information and the complete schedule is available online at CARunForTheFallen.org.
“To them that’s here; to them that’s gone; to them we’ll see again.”
— Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/goldeenblog and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.