MERCED — It's been a decade since Pfc. Karina Lau was killed in action, but it doesn't seem that long to parents Ruth and Augustin Lau.
"It's like yesterday for us," her mother, 55, said. "It's too hard."
The fourth Run for the Fallen is dedicated to Karina Lau. The Livingston 20-year-old was killed in Iraq on Nov. 2, 2003, with 15 other American soldiers when their transport helicopter was shot down in an attack west of Baghdad.
The 4.2-mile run and walk begins at 8 a.m. Saturday at Applegate Park, 1045 W. 25th St. The day honors service members killed in action.
Serving in the Army meant much to Lau, who worked in radio communication, her family said.
"It was so important for her to do her job, helping people," her mother said, adding that her daughter wanted to make people happy. "She was a special girl," she said.
Augustin Lau said his daughter loved music and played several different instruments, but her favorite was the saxophone. They had the instrument engraved on her headstone. His daughter had her eyes set on teaching music or even making it on Broadway, the 69-year-old said.
He said she was a stickler for being punctual. "She liked to do everything perfect," he said. "She was a real smart girl."
Saturday's run honoring their daughter is bittersweet, he said. "We are proud of everyone honoring her, at the same time we feel a little sad," he said. "Every time they name something in her honor, we remember she is dead."
Karina Lau's room in her Livingston home remains the same as the day she died, her parents said, but it's gained artwork and remembrances from strangers who heard her story.
The Lau family's service to the country didn't end with their daughter son Luis is a seaman.
Run For the Fallen organizer Anita Richards, a Gold Star Mother, said runners who want to honor a fallen soldier from any era are welcome.
Richards is the mother of Staff Sgt. Frank J. Gasper, 25, who was killed in Iraq on May 25, 2008.
It's important to keep your child's name alive, she said, when dealing with grief. "It's been really a great experience for me," she said of the run. "For me it's been healing."
This year's event is sponsored by Lions breakfast club, Merced Elks Lodge, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars from Ballico and Winton, as well as a number of businesses.
The run's official T-shirt will bear Karina Lau's name.
About 400 people are registered, Richards said, but many more will jump in when registration opens at 7 a.m. Saturday near the flag pole. More than 1,000 participants ran or walked in the event last year.
Los Banos Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.