CLINTON — Led by Gold Star families the New York chapter of the Honor and Remember organization, running 146 miles from Syracuse to Albany in remembrance of the New York State fallen heroes of the U.S. armed forces, beat feet into the Village of Clinton Green to thunderous applause from more than 200 people waiting for their arrival on Friday, June 7.
Although this 11-year-old Flag Day tradition was not conceived in Clinton, New York, it still has it's roots here.
On Flag Day, June 14, 2008 a team of runners, led by Clinton N.Y. native Jon Bellona ran 4,100 miles from Fort Irwin, Ca. to Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia in honor of the 4,100 soldiers killed since the War on Terror began with the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
One of the soldiers honored that day was Micheal Cleary, a U.S. Army Ranger who was killed in Iraq by an improvised explosive device, or IED, explosion on Dec. 20, 2005. Among those who've mourned and honored him was Bellona, his Hamilton College roommate.
"Mike was a hunter and a fisherman," said Bellona, in a telephone interview. "He came from Northern Pennsylvania. He was a straight shooter with a broad smile on his face, as well as a serious bull artist who was just fun to be around."
Bellona said Cleary was a member of about a dozen friends in college who were pretty tight. And after September 11, 2001 Cleary decided to join the U.S. Army after graduation, he attended Ranger School and before he could attend Officer's Candidate School he was deployed to Iraq.
It is noteworthy to say that while the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 is not officially considered an attack during the War on Terror, the 17 sailors who lost their lives in that attack are included in tribute by the Honor and Remember staff, volunteers and runners.
This year, like every year before it, groups of runners traveled in recreational vehicles and spelled each other after certain distances, passing off a huge American flag as they ran the duration of the course in shifts. A flag placed each and every mile in remembrance of those who've been lost.
Since 2008 the Run for the Fallen has expanded each year.
According to the Run for the Fallen website, in 2018 on its 10th anniversary a group named Honor and Remember expanded the initial run by creating America’s Run for the Fallen, the most comprehensive fallen veteran tribute to date from April 7th - August 5th, covering 6,000 miles, over 120 days through 19 states honoring over 20,000 service members.
In Clinton the Utica/Rome Cadet Squadron and Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association Riders began reading a total of 840 plus names at the Village Green gazebo at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.
Names like Corporal Kyle R. Schneider, of Baldwinsville N.Y. who was killed in action in the heavily fortified by Taliban forces, Town of Sangin, located in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan on June 30, 2011.
Schneider, at his funeral service, was described by his third-grade teacher as the most patriotic student she ever had in her 30 plus-year teaching career, according to Schneider's Gold Star mother, Lorie Schneider.
"Kyle had an internal sense of duty to country, family and community," Schneider said.
She said her son entered the U.S. Marine Corps. in 2008 and after boot camp he received orders to report to Washington D.C. as part of the security detail for the Commandant of the Marine Corps. and President Barack Obama. He was stationed there for two years. But Schneider felt he wasn't contributing enough and he approached his Gunnery Sergeant three times to request transfer to an infantry unit.
"Gunny, it's my turn to bring home a brother, a son, a father or husband," Cpl. Schneider said, according to his mother.
She continued to explain his Gunnery Sergeant said after the third time the patriotic young Cpl. put himself in his Gunny's office hatch (door), requesting the transfer, Gunny could see that Cpl. Schneider's destiny was far above and beyond, and out of his hands. He transferred the Marine to Camp Lejeune and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit for training to deploy to Afghanistan. Cpl. Schneider did so three days after his 23rd birthday on January 11, 2008. He was quickly promoted to squad leader after putting boots on sand. He was respected by his unit, and he was pronounced KIA seven months later while out on what was most likely the last patrol of his tour.
The ceremony on the Green encompassed the honoring of families, with the presentation of Honor and Remember Flags, the remembered's names on them, a 21-gun salute performed by the Mohawk Vally Memorial Squad VFW #3275 led by Commander David Hotaling.
And a short telling of the original Run for the Fallen event from the father of the originator, Village of Clinton Mayor Steven J. Bellona, who said he was proud to have Run for the Fallen come to Clinton and thanked them for honoring those who sacrificed so much.
In a special tribute, U.S. Rep. Anthony J. Brindisi (D-22) awarded 96-year-old Louis Smith, a WWII B-24 aerial nose gunner, from Washington Mills, four decorations he never received while an active member of the 13th United States Army Air Corps.
Flying over 50 combat missions in the Asiatic Pacific Theater in 1942, Staff Sergeant Smith distinguished himself along with the rest of his crew flying without fighter protection and under the cover of darkness, according to government officials.
The four commendations Smith received were the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver star and one bronze star, the Distinguished Air Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, and a unit citation.
Brindisi said after the war Smith returned home to his wife, Jane and four children, a long career with the Lee Smith Service Station and a host of friends in the community who think of him as someone other than just an ordinary citizen.
"Staff Sergeant Smith is so beloved he is affectionately known as the Mayor of Washington Mills," Brindisi said. "And if you don't believe me he will give you a card that says MAYOR on it."