By John Butters, Mt. Pleasant News
George Lutz, founder of America?s Run for the Fallen, is blazing a memory trail across the United States.
Lutz, who lives in Virginia, is leading a rotating team of voluntary runners, military and civilian, in a 6,000 mile trek across the U.S. in five months. The run started in April at Fort Irwin, Calif., and will end in August at Arlington National Cemetery. On Wednesday night, Lutz and his core runners stopped in Mt. Pleasant for dinner and a memorial service at the First United Methodist Church before retiring for the night in one of the dorms on the Iowa Wesleyan University campus.
During the church service, Lutz spoke of his mission and the reasons why the run is vital for both the families of the deceased and America.
?It is important to get our nation?s citizens to be grateful for the sacrifice these men and women have made. They are not just statistics. They are men and women with families who loved them,? he said. ?We are creating a tribute trail from coast to coast by calling their names out loud. We do this so people can hear of them and honor them.?
But it isn?t only the fallen men and women that concern Lutz, he hopes to bring comfort to Gold Star families.
While on the road, the runners stop and place a marker to honor a fallen military member during a small roadside service. The names are read in the chronological order of their death, beginning with the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October of 2000. More than 20,000 names will have been read by the time the team reaches Arlington. The names include not only active combat deaths, but also casualties of disease, accidents, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other tragic circumstances.
This part of the run is important to Lutz, as he is a Gold Star father himself. Lutz lost his son Corporal George A. Lutz II in December of 2005 in Iraq.
Ron and Shar Pape, Gold Star parents from East Grand Forks, Minn., were in Mt. Pleasant Wednedsay night as one of their sons? markers was placed near the small Iowa town on Thursday. The couple lost two sons in the military. The marker for their second son is located in New Mexico.
?This means everything to us. They are still remembered,? said Shar.
?This is awesome. We are glad to be here for a couple of days,? said Ron.
Jody Ranisate, the Iowa coordinator and a run captain, is also a member of a Gold Star family. She lost a brother to PTSD 19 months ago. ?It?s been amazing. I?ve been planning this part of the run for so many months. Every day we get up early. There is just so much to get done. But it is a joy and a passion for me to participate,? she said.
Doug Turner, who attends Indian Hills Community College, ran with the Davis County cross-country team from Ottumwa to Mt. Pleasant. He found the small services moving, he said. ?The thing that keeps me going is how this impacts on the families.?
DeWayne Frazier, vice president for academic affairs, said the college was privileged to participate. ?Our college has a long tradition of being helpful to our military. We care about them. We wanted to step up and give something back to our Gold Star families. We saw an opportunity to partner with the First Methodist Church and provide support for the run team,? he said.
He said local businesses such as AmericInn, Casey?s, Any Wear Apparel, and the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance contributed to the event.
Ryan Heffernan works for Iowa Wesleyan through the AmeriCorps program. His job includes acting as a liaison between the college and the community. He was charged with finding provisions for the run team. It was not difficult to find willing sponsors, he said.
?There has been an outpouring of support for the runners and the entire event,? he said.
Mt. Pleasant residents, like Paul Weinstock, also volunteered their time and money. Weinstock retired from the Army after 27 years of service.
?I wanted to do my part. There are a lot of people taking time out of their life to support this project. As a soldier, I appreciate that people support us,? he said.
In his closing remarks, Lutz confirmed his dedication to the fallen and their families. ?I hope this run brings a message of healing. I hope it brings a message of thanks.?
Thursday?s route will take the runners from Mt. Pleasant to Burlington and then into Illinois. By the time the group arrived at Mt. Pleasant, they had logged 3,100 miles and crossed 11 states. Those interested in following the run can watch the live feed online at the site www.runforthefallen.org.
Relatives who would like to attend a service can search for a loved one?s mile along the 2018 route. A map should pop up indicating the general location of each marker. If the families let the organizers know that they will be there, they will do their best to identify the exact time and location that day.
The project is being underwritten by donations from both corporate sponsors and private contributions.