Hundreds of people took to the course for the Run for the Fallen on Saturday in Merced’s Applegate Park to honor military men and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some ran, some walked and others showed their support during opening ceremonies, which included singing, a military salute and poetry.
Ted Schelby, 36, of Merced stood in the park while his wife, Athena, 33, helped him pin a card that read “Pfc. Karina Lau” to his shirt. Each entrant wore a card, many with the name of a fallen soldier.
Schelby said he never met Lau, a Livingston 20-year-old killed in Iraq on Nov. 2, 2003, but he wanted to run in honor of one of the fallen troops.
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“I just think it’s important for everybody back home to realize all the sacrifices that are being made,” he said. “We tend to forget we have troops that are half a world away.”
Fifteen other American soldiers died with Lau when their transport helicopter was shot down west of Baghdad.
Families and friends also gathered for the a 4.2-mile memorial walk or run honoring servicemen and sevicewomen. Volunteers estimated there were more than 600 participants.
Also in the park was Frank Gasper of Merced, who wore a T-shirt in memory of his nephew of the same name. Staff Sgt. Frank J. Gasper, 25, was killed May 25, 2008, in Najaf, Iraq, when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb.
The 70-year-old described his nephew as “easygoing” and “responsible.” Gasper and his wife, Donna, said they had been to several of the runs because they wanted to celebrate the “heroes” who had given their lives, like their nephew.
“Frank was always into the service,” he said. “He loved it.”
Run for the Fallen was created to honor those who have died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it welcomes those who want to remember fallen soldiers of any era.
Diane Layfield, the mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Travis Layfield of Fremont said it’s important that Americans are constantly reminded of the men and women fighting overseas. Her 19-year-old son was killed in Iraq on April 6, 2004.
“We always want to bring them to the front,” the 63-year-old said. “Our military has really just been neglected, and we need to bring them back to the forefront where they belong.”
The run was held in honor of Layfield because it has been 10 years since his death. His 13-year-old son, Dylan, also took part.
Ten servicemembers with ties to Merced County who have died while serving since Sept. 11, 2001, are honored each year by hundreds of runners and walkers at Run for the Fallen. The local event was inspired by its national counterpart.
Many of the participants mark the cards on their shirts with “For all” or “All those who have fallen.”
Elizabeth Guerrero, 34, said she just recently moved to Merced from the Bay Area, so she has no personal connections with Merced County’s fallen.
She wanted to run nonetheless. “I just (wanted) to show appreciation and be thankful for our freedom,” she said.