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Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, an adage that’s been around for decades. But, did you know that Edward A. Murphy, Jr. was a military officer* and 1940 graduate of the United States Military Academy? It’s no surprise then, that my husband Mark and I, both graduates of the Academy and Army veterans, would find ourselves testing the law this past weekend.
Two miles north of Exit 3 for Camden on the New Jersey Turnpike going southbound, the back tire blew out. Mark was driving six of us to Washington, D.C. to run the Army Ten-Miler. The four high-school runners got out of the Toyota Sequoia and helped lower the full-size spare. It was a fruitless effort because the lug nuts were on so tight that Mark bent the wrench.
Let me save you some time and trouble, fellow East Coast drivers. For the record, private insurance’s roadside assistance cannot help on the Turnpike. You think my insurance company might know this? Two assistance calls and several hours later, a State Trooper pulled up behind the truck. He explained it this way: the garage will get fined and you will get fined. You have to call 9-11. Since the Turnpike is a state highway, only authorized towing and recovery vehicles are allowed. Officer Saavedra said he had received notice that we were building a memorial on the roadside. Oh, really?
My 18-year-old son Davis and his friend Spencer were sitting under a tree. My 16-year-old daughter Norah and Nico’s fort made from twigs and branches had fallen down around the card games they’d been playing. The rubber-necking was backing up traffic for miles.
It was a sunny October day. So, the kids’ twig fort or so-called memorial turned out to be the only effective distress signal, better than my insurance carrier, two roadside calls, the six of us in the truck, a stripped lug nut, and a bent wrench. Fellow travelers, please accept this as my apology for all the delays Saturday near Exit 3 at midday.
The official Turnpike van was seven minutes behind the officer. When it arrived, a large man in a fluorescent yellow jacket used a cross-shaped wrench. He said he changed about 12 tires a week. None quite like this. Sweat streamed down his cheek as he jumped on the iron to remove the nuts. He then had to kick the tire dozens of times, leaning back against the side panel and stomping at it with the bottom of his boot. He bent his tire iron too.
This was the third year that members of my son’s high school Cross Country team from King School in Stamford Connecticut were running the Army Ten Miler. The number has grown to include other students, alumni, parents, and friends. King had 20 runners and over 10 fans.
I registered two King teams to run in the 35thannual race, which raises funds for Army families. Soldiers, veterans, units, wounded warriors and civilians came from all over the country.
I needed to pick up nine packets which included the bibs required to run and I was worried I might not make it. The Expo held at the D.C. Armory would be open to 6:00 PM. From the Turnpike road-side I sent documentation and photos of identification to the team parent Eileen. She had taken the train to DC and managed to get everything for me. The Jersey squad ate at Longhorn Steakhouse while the truck was in the shop in Woodbury. We got to DC in time for the end of the training dinner, heard the band, and listened to speakers.
Several runners offered to help in the group text. One parent asked how I managed to get the bibs. I explained that this was protocol for the Army, a plan B and plan C. Anything could happen. If you can imagine that something may happen, it may just happen. Sound familiar?
“Specialist Kyle Ka Eo Fernandez! ” Norah said when it was her turn. It was a chilly morning in the South Lot of the Pentagon before the race. Fernandez was killed in action in Afghanistan on October 14, 2004. Though I didn’t know it at the time, he had left behind a young wife, a four-year old daughter and 13-month-old son. He was a member of the 5thInfantry Regiment.
Colonel Dave Leach, a former commander and aviator in the 82ndAirborne, spoke to the circle of runners about what the Wear Blue organization does. Members Wear Blue To Remember the fallen, the fighting, and the families. Runners wear the organization’s blue shirt and participate in major events across the country, many chapters running every Saturday to raise awareness. Before this weekend’s race, they gathered to say the names out loud of those who died since 9-11 on Columbus Day weekend.
Leach gave a strip of paper to all the King runners and fans. Each of us read the rank and name. The group shared 87 names. Gold Star Family members stepped forward next and then individuals shared names of those they wished to remember. One of the King runners, Nico, stepped forward and said his grandfather’s name, an army colonel who fought in the Guatemalan Army with the U.S. during the Civil War and trained in Texas. The group finished with a prayer.
This was the first year the King group participated in the Wear Blue circle of remembrance and it made it personal, a human connection to all that goes into defending a nation. This ritual and this group help create awareness, a living and breathing movement to honor the service and the sacrifice of the American military.
Fans snapped photos and runners moved to their corals. After the national anthem, Army Black Hawks flew by in formation as music pumped out of the loud speakers amid the din of tens of thousands of runners.
The wounded warriors and wheelchair athletes started at 7:50, then the runners progressed over the start line for the next hour in 10 waves. Mark and I set our watches as we stepped across with the 3600 others in our wave. The loud speakers blasted Eye of the Tiger and fans cheered. We jogged north along Arlington National cemetery to Rosslyn and across Key Bridge. The course begins and ends in Arlington at the Pentagon and crosses the Potomac River, then onto the National Mall by the Washington Monument, passing the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials; then it returns by the 14thstreet bridge.
Not long into the race, I heard a resonant and articulate voice from behind. “Children of Fallen Patriots!” An athletic middle-aged man strode up next to me, a younger man to his left. He told me that his roommate in college founded the program. As a King runner, Mark and I were wearing King’s race shirt which we designed with the foundation’s logo. This year King School asked Mark and me about a partnership with veteran charities and we told them about Children of Fallen Patriots. The jersey had the school’s logo on front and the foundation’s logo on the back.
Small world. The man said his name was Ron Clark and he was a graduate from West Point’s class of 1988. We both knew the founder David Kim. Ron had roomed with him and I had met Kim’s wife through my daughter Norah’s volleyball team. Kim and his wife founded the charity to fund college for gold star families, those who have a parent who died in the line of duty. Clark and I talked a bit about Kim, the Foundation, and West Point, then he passed me.
I felt strong at the Key Bridge and stretched out as I headed down towards the Watergate Hotel. Race conditions were ideal, cool and a bit overcast. The King cross country runners were far ahead, having started two waves before me. The highlight of the run was along the Mall where the course circled back on itself and I ran by others, many high-fiving and calling out encouragement. I saw Lisa and Sarah, a mother and daughter from King, and it boosted my spirits. We rallied and slapped hands across the cones. I hadn’t trained much this year, maybe 20 miles per week and most of it walking. Mark and I had hiked Kilimanjaro in June and our bodies, knees especially, had taken a beating. We planned to shuffle through the course since the sweep, or time allotted, was a 15-minute mile.
I felt good for the first seven miles until the 14thStreet Bridge, which we had to run across to get back to the Pentagon. I had loathed this bridge at the end of the Marine Corps Marathon which I ran a few years back. It was uphill then flattened and then more uphill. My legs had given out on that bridge at the end of the marathon, and they weren’t feeling so hot this Sunday in the eighth mile.
I shuffled up past the walkers, who wisely enough, opted against running. I recognized the young man who had been running with Ron Clark on the shoulder. Then I saw Clark stretching. I bellowed out Hello, pleased to see them and provide encouragement, needing it myself. They were smart to break. Walk the uphills and jog the downs and flats.
I took their example to heart and walked to the crest of the bridge. Farther along, Clark caught up. I asked what he was doing now and he said he was commanding the 25thInfantry. No kidding, I thought, without saying so. That’s a division command. I’ve been a civilian for years now, but that means stars. The young man running with Clark was likely the general’s aide. Huh. That’s a career of excellence and service.
Without skipping a beat, however, I told the general that was a long way to come for a race. The 25th Infantry Division is based in Hawaii. Clark laughed and said he visited the Kims whenever he was in Greenwich. Then Clark passed me a second time. I checked his finish time online and he beat me by less than a minute. I had hoped to catch him but my legs wouldn’t have it. I used to run for the Army Track team as a sprinter, and I could run a five and six minute mile pace back then. It was a lot of fun motivating the guys to run faster, many unhappy to have a girl pass them. (Wiki Link to Major General Ronald P. Clark)
Clark had passed me twice on the Ten Miler and I passed him once, but only for a short distance. He was 53 and I was 50. Besides our age, our run times, our alma mater, and our support of the Army, it is interesting to think about another connection. The young soldier’s name that Norah called out in the circle was in the 5thInfantry Regiment based in Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, part of the division which Clark now commands. How many soldiers has Clark buried in his career, how many funerals attended, how many letters written to families?
The male and female winners of the race were Kenyan athletes who came to America and ran for the University of Arizona. Both later joined the U.S. Army. The Washington Post said the female winner Elvin Kibet “cried when she wore her Army race singlet for the first time, honored to represent the military.” She was proud to be running for something and this was her first visit to Washington.
It was that kind of race. I could see it in the eyes of the King runners after the Wear Blue circle. I could feel the energy in the air. I could feel it in the presence of tough men and women of all ages and backgrounds. Stamford Connecticut where King School is located is far removed from Army life. There is a vacuum of military culture in the Northeast and many places around the country. A national burden is carried by fewer than one percent of Americans. But, not this Sunday, at least not for these King runners.
King may have had the only high school team in the race of 35,000. Runners have to be 15 years old. Al, John, and Maddie were 15. Many of the group ran the longest distance in their lives. And they now know something about the Army. They ran with soldiers. They talked to soldiers. They read and listened to the 87 names.
As Norah and I walked into the lobby to head home after the race, I saw the boys, draped over the couches, bags in a heap on the rug. Spencer asked for tweezers. Then he suggested that we check for ticks since he found one.
What? He had to be kidding? No one gets ticks on the streets of Arlington and D.C. Spencer reminded me of the woods by the road. The hours on the Jersey Turnpike when Spencer had been sitting by the trees the day before. Right. He had a point.
Did I tell you that Murphy was in the Army*?
* Murphy was an officer in the Army and the Air Force. In 1940, officers who graduated from West Point would join the Army Air Corps. The United States Air Force Academy was established in 1954.