Coast-To-Coast Relay Run Pays Tribute To The Fallen

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Houston Chronicle
June 17, 2008 By William Kates, Associated Press
CLINTON, N.Y. — Jon Bellona was devastated when he learned that a good friend had been killed in Iraq. While out on a jog, he came up with a way to honor his fallen pal.
Bellona is remembering his friend Mike Cleary — and all American soldiers killed in Iraq — with a coast-to-coast memorial relay run that began Saturday in Fort Irwin, Calif., and is to end at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Bellona is accompanied by a small cadre of friends and former classmates. They will be joined along various stretches of the 72-day, 13-state journey by other runners and groups, including several military units and veterans' organizations. Their route will cross the Texas Panhandle.
At each mile along the 4,113-mile route, they will plant an American flag — with a card and photo — in honor of each of the more than 4,000 soldiers killed in Iraq.
"This isn't about politics at all," said Shauna Sweet, who hopes to run all 72 days. "It's about how real people make real sacrifices every day. It's honoring that and respecting that. Sometimes you need to be able to say more than just thank you."
Cleary, of Dallas, Pa., was 24 when he was killed Dec. 20, 2005, in Iraq.
Like so many young Americans, he was inspired to join the Army after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, said his father, Jack Cleary, himself a retired Army officer.
The Clearys persuaded their son to wait and graduate from Hamilton College in upstate New York before enlisting. Cleary joined up and soon made first lieutenant. He died in December 2005.
The idea for the relay run came to Bellona, a roommate of Cleary's at Hamilton, about a year ago. Bellona was working in New York City and living in New Jersey and was out for a run on the waterfront.
"I could see the New York skyline and what was missing," he said, referring to the World Trade Center towers. "I remembered sitting on the couch with Mike in our suite junior year and watching the 9/11 events unfold. It was just all there in my head: Mike, the towers, the running. The idea popped into my head and I couldn't sleep that night."
The race also will help raise funds for those left behind. Donations will be directed to the Wounded Warrior Project, the Yellow Ribbon Fund, 1st Lt. Michael J. Cleary Memorial Fund and Helping Unite Gold Star Survivors.