Editor's note: The annual Run For The Fallen will be held Sept. 23-25, and its route will be mostly in San Joaquin County on Sept. 24.

Record Deputy Metro Editor Barbara Zumwalt, who has attended the events, writes about its deep meaning. 

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Most of the people out that day were unaware of the young men and women running mile by mile, stopping every so often to plant a flag and salute it.

In a way, that’s part of the importance.

The men and women who serve in the military defend the rights of everyone, regardless of whether they serve.

The runners went past groups of people playing soccer and enjoying parks, past the host of parents urging their children to pass the ball or shoot it. Perhaps the runners found joy in those living the American dream.

Mile after mile on a 150-mile trek over three days, the runners stopped.

In solemn silence, they plant flags for the fallen. A flag, a photo, and a brief bio of someone who has died in the war on terror.

Last year, I stopped at one of the lonely miles between Stockton and Manteca to see up close what was going on.

Organizers were there.

“Would you like to hand one of the runners a flag?”

Of course I would.

So I held the flag and the marker honoring PFC Oscar Sanchez.

When the runners arrived, I was suddenly at a loss for words, overcome with emotion to honor someone who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Silently, I handed over the flag, one of five at that spot. Slowly, the runners read the names on those cards, then planted the flags.

It was emotional enough already, and my tears began to flow. But what happened next stunned me.

One young man, dripping with sweat, approached me, hugged me and said “I’m sorry for your loss, ma’am.”

I couldn’t utter a sound. I was too overcome to do so.

A second runner did the same, and I knew I had to fully disclose that, although I come from a family of those who served, this one was not my son. I was inadequate to receive such a sincere greeting. I almost felt I was stealing some deserving mother's hug.

All I could say was, “Thank you, but, personally, I haven’t lost anyone. … But they’re all ours, aren’t they? I’ve come out today to honor them and support you.”

There were six more runners at this point. And, one by one, they all came to give me hugs I didn’t deserve. I accepted them, however, on behalf of all the mothers who did.

There will be runners again this year, running those 150 miles from Elk Grove through to Stockton, Manteca, Tracy and ending up in Dixon. The route through San Joaquin County is on Sept. 24, starting at 7 a.m. in Collierville and ending nearly12 hours later in Mountain House.

To find their route, go to carunforthefallen.org/.