Those who gave their lives during U.S. wars are honored on Memorial Day, but one veterans group hopes Americans will specifically remember 65,502 of them this year.
The number represents the men and women who have died serving the United States since the beginning of the Vietnam War, and it is the number “wear blue: run to remember” plans to memorialize Monday.
The 60-odd chapters of “wear blue” — the lowercase a reminder of the maxim “the mission is bigger than the name” — gather every Saturday to run in honor of fallen veterans. The ritual takes place from coast to coast and in Germany, Italy and Japan.
For this Memorial Day, they hope to expand their membership and get runners or walkers everywhere to move in remembrance of lost service members.
“We want Americans this Memorial Day thinking, ‘You know what? I’m going to remember this year; it’s going to be personal this year,’” said Lisa Hallett, a founder of the group in Tacoma, Washington. “This Memorial Day, we are charging the nation, if you will, to honor with us.”
Mrs. Hallett is not only a tireless promoter of “wear blue: run to remember,” but she is also a member. Her husband, Capt. John Hallett, was killed near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in August 2009, three weeks after he deployed to the war zone with the Army’s 117th Infantry Battalion and days before the couple’s daughter, Heidi, was born.
Hallett never saw his little girl.
“We were struggling. It was a terrifying time,” Mrs. Hallett said of that summer. Hallett’s unit lost 41 soldiers. Mrs. Hallett said the tight-knit community around Fort Lewis Army Base in Washington state would receive weekly emails with crushing news of another soldier killed in action.
She recalled the nightmare of two officers in green uniforms pulling her out of a family meeting to tell her “Your husband is believed to have perished in the fires.” A general later called to confirm the news.
More than 50,000 people have participated since wear blue’s first run in February 2010. Roughly 15,000 are regular members who honor fallen family members or other veterans each weekend. Hallett is but one fallen veteran that the DuPont, Washington, chapter remembers each Saturday.
Mike Brown, who runs there every weekend, mentions his West Point roommate from the class of 1967, 1st Lt. Peter Lantz, who was killed in Vietnam. Rachel Elizalde remembers her brother, Adrian, an Army soldier killed in Baghdad with the 1st Special Forces Group.
The wear blue members, who typically run 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles, took their color from the original runs. Participants were asked to wear the “physical training shirts” of service members. The 117th Infantry Battalion’s blue shirt is marked with the image of a buffalo.
“Who we honor is more important than any logo or branding,” Mrs. Hallett said.
On any given weekend, wear blue: run to remember participants read aloud the names of service members killed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but the group envisions a much larger presence this holiday.
For Memorial Day, wear blue: run to remember is asking anyone willing to run or walk any distance to visit its website. Participants will be given the name of a fallen service member and the date the person was killed in action. The information comes from Honor the Fallen, a website run by the Military Times.
“The idea was: How do you thank a vet?” Mrs. Hallett said. “We figured you sweat with a vet. You learn their story, and then you run.”
The purpose of the exercise is to put a positive, life-affirming spin on what could be an otherwise sad outing. Dedicated wear blue members see their runs as part of the “unfinished work” the service members “so nobly advanced,” to borrow from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
The project also includes “running mentorships” for surviving children of veterans to help form “healthy, resilient survivors,” Mrs. Hallett said.
She imagines her husband, a West Point graduate, would have wanted it that way. The couple met when she was in kindergarten and he was “an older man — in second grade,” in a northern California Catholic School.
After a trip to Mexico, where they helped build houses, Mrs. Hallett returned to the U.S. with a commitment to him.
“When I got back, I told everyone I was in love with John Hallett and I was going to marry John Hallett and have his red-haired baby,” she said.
The couple had three babies: two boys and Heidi, though their hair is more dark blond than red.
Run to remember is a loosely organized conglomeration of chapters that work together on some public outreach. At the annual Marine Corps Marathon in the District of Columbia, the group erects huge profile shots of service members killed in action along with full-sized American flags. The group does the same at the Army Ten Miler in the D.C. area, the All-American Marathon at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in support of the Navy, and a dozen other races across the country.
Although the wear blue club members typically run 5K, Memorial Day participation has no distance requirement. Those interested don’t even have to run. Even if it is simply a walk around the block, Mrs. Hallett said, it should be personalized with the name and remembrance of a specific service member fallen while serving in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq or another place of combat in the past 60 years.
The group isn’t looking to ignore anyone fallen in the Civil War or other earlier conflicts. The time frame was chosen to bring this Memorial Day home to a kind of contemporary living memory.
“We want Memorial Day to have a genuine purpose for people, a remembrance of life and country,” Mrs. Hallett said.