FORT GREGG-ADAMS, Va. — The military and civilian communities came together with Gold Star Families for the 13th year to honor fallen service members at the annual Run for the Fallen.
The event took place Saturday morning at Williams Stadium. Participants could walk or run a 1-mile or 5K route. This year, a new route included the newly-redesignated Gold Star Bridge spanning SR 36.
Each year, the event gets better and better, said Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, the commanding general of U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Gregg-Adams.
“We are so well represented by all services – Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Soldiers,” he said, adding he wanted to pay special attention to the Gold Star Families who attended.
Gold Star families are those who have experienced the loss of an immediate family member who died as the result of active-duty military service.
“We want to continue to draw them closer to us,” he said. “We cannot forget. We will not forget, ever.”
Sgt. 1st Class Miguel Cruz, a drill sergeant for the 508th Transportation Training Detachment, has personal experience with loss. While assigned to the 7th Special Forces Command, two Soldiers in his unit were killed Feb. 8, 2020 in Afghanistan.
“You wake up every morning,” he said. “You can be you – you’re still here – but they’re not,” he said.
Cruz ran this year and last year and plans to run again next year if he is still stationed at Fort Gregg-Adams.
This year, the Fort Gregg-Adams Run for the Fallen recognizes about 200 additional fallen military service members from across the state for a total of roughly 1,100 representing every service branch and conflict.
Thirteen years ago, the Fort Lee (now Fort Gregg-Adams) run was intended to honor the fallen and their survivors from the Central Virginia area. However, in the coming years, the plan is to continue to expand and honor the fallen from every state in the nation.
This year's speaker was George Lutz, whose son, Cpl. George A. Lutz II, was killed in Iraq, December 29, 2005. Lutz subsequently started the Honor and Remember Project.
The group’s mission, according to its website is “to perpetually recognize the sacrifice of America’s military fallen service members and their families. … The primary vehicle for perpetual recognition is a specific and dedicated symbol of remembrance created by this organization: the Honor and Remember Flag, which is intended to fly continuously as a tangible and visible reminder to all Americans of the lives lost in defense of our national freedoms.”
Lutz described the day he was notified of his son’s death. The casualty notification officer’s words started with, “We regret to inform you …”
“Those are the most devastating words any parent could imagine,” he said.
From that point on, Lutz knew the memory of his son was all he would have left.
He started connecting with other Gold Star Families, and determined there were two desires they all shared. One was to feel their loved one’s death was not in vain, and the other was that they would never be forgotten.
As long as the American Flag flew over a free United States, no casualty would ever be in vain in the cause of freedom, Lutz said. He decided to concentrate on finding a way to make sure fallen service members would be remembered.
Less than 10 percent of Americans have a connection to the military, so Lutz wanted to figure out how to reach the other 90 percent of the people. So, he created a flag – the Honor and Remember Flag – as a symbol of remembrance. Since, it has been adopted by 27 states as a state symbol of remembrance.
Lutz also came to work with John Bellona, who conducted the original Run for the Fallen in 2008 by running from Fort Irwin, Calif., to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., placing a flag in honor of each fallen service member at every mile.
There are hundreds of Run for the Fallen events across the nation now, he said, including the one at Fort Gregg-Adams.
“We must never forget,” Lutz said. “This is what we do today. We celebrate their lives. We don’t remember their loss.”