MERCED -- A run honoring Merced County's fallen war heroes will make its return to Applegate Park on Saturday.
The third annual Run for the Fallen is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. next to the flag pole. Registration starts at 7 a.m., and opening ceremonies are at 7:30 a.m.
The event is sponsored by the Lions Breakfast Club. Other groups involved in the event include Merced Elks Lodge 1240 and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The 3.6-mile race is free for participants. It's not a timed race, and participants can walk or run the course.
Anita Richards, the organizers, said over the years the event has helped her and others cope with the loss of their loved ones.
Richards is the mother of Staff Sgt. Frank J. Gasper, 25, who was killed in Iraq on May 25, 2008.
"It's a bittersweet day. Bitter in that you're a Gold Star Family member. But sweet in that you are not standing alone. It brings healing to me that day," she said.
Richards said the event isn't only geared toward families who've lost loved ones since Sept. 11.
"It's also brought out people from the Vietnam era. They feel like this is an opportunity for them to heal, too. We honor anyone who's fallen during any era," she said.
Merced isn't the only community to hold a Run for the Fallen event. Run for the Fallen dates back to June 14, 2008, Flag Day, when a team of runners ran from Fort Irwin in California's Mojave Desert to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
The miles traveled were dedicated to all of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the website, Runforthefallen.org.
During a period of 10 weeks, the team's members marked each mile with an American flag and a card in an "apolitical reflection of remembrance of each service member."
More than 8,300 participants in 45 states and two countries, running a combined total of more than 49,000 miles during last year's event, according to the website.
In Merced County, last year's event attracted 1,076 runners and more than 1,500 attendees -- more than double the number who participated the first year of the event.
Ernest Conner, chairman of Merced Elks Lodge 1240's Veterans Services and Church Committee, said people from Fresno and other cities outside Merced County have expressed interest in this year's event. He's optimistic the event will attract even more people this year.
"It's a chance to honor the fallen and say thank you to the families," Conner said.
To register for the event, call Conner at (209) 988-2276 or e-mail email@example.com.
Representatives for the event also will be registering participants from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Starbucks on Yosemite Avenue in Merced.
For more information, go to the group's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/RunForTheFallenMerced.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Merced County residents who've died in war zones since Sept. 11, 2001:
Karina Lau, Nov. 2, 2003
Travis J. Layfield, April 6, 2004
Cesar A. Granados, Sept. 15, 2006
Joshua Pickard, Dec. 19, 2006
Frank J. Gasper, May 25, 2008
Janelle F. King, Aug. 14, 2008
Lukas C. Hopper, Oct. 30, 2009
David Hartman, Feb. 3, 2010
Matthew Abbate, Dec. 2, 2010
Vincent Wayne Ashlock, Dec. 4, 2010
Jose Rodriguez, 22, June 19, 2012