Tuesday, September 13, 2011

No Sacrifice Forgotten

Sunday morning I did not do something that I have done more often than not since 2002. I did not watch the ceremony from Lower Manhattan honoring the victims of the 09/11 attacks and their loved ones. In my defense (in the event one determines that I need one), I had a very good "excuse".

I spent this Sunday morning in the company of a number of extraordinary people. An organization called hopeforthewarriors.org put on the 4th Annual Rutgers Army ROTC Run For The Warriors, which offered both a 5K Run and a 1 mile walk. Because I think running serves him well - both physically and mentally (as it does me) - and because I think exposing young people to serious things does likewise, my young wingman Ryan accompanied me to RU for the event. I am embarrassed to admit that in spite of the fact that: (a) I run in a lot of races; (b) honoring those who were murdered on 09/11 is a cause near/dear to me; and (c) I live within ten minutes of Rutgers, I was unaware of this event's existence until about one month ago. By that I do not mean simply the date of this year's race. I mean the race. Period. How I missed it the past three years I know not. I am pleased that my losing streak did not reach four.

Among the amazing people who Ryan and I were exposed to on Sunday morning are Mr. and Mrs. Koch, whose son Steven R. Koch joined the United States Army after the attacks of September 11 and became a member of the 82nd Airborne. CPL Koch was killed in action on March 3, 2008. He was twenty-four years old. The Kochs have formed the Corporal Steven R. Koch Trust Fund (CSRK Trust Fund for short) and the Trust Fund was one of the sponsors of Sunday's event.

Although Mr. and Mrs. Koch arrived in a seriously cool vehicle

their mode of transportation was perhaps the least impressive thing about them. Mr. Koch spoke briefly but passionately about his son and about why he/his wife had established the Trust Fund and gotten so intimately involved with Hope for the Warriors. As he described it, "Steven volunteered. We were drafted." He meant that his son's sense of duty and love of country had proven infectious and that in the wake of his death his parents have been driven to honor his life and the lives of his brothers and sisters in arms by doing all they can to assist veterans in need of medical care, financial assistance and - most importantly - help assimilating back into a world that is nothing at all like the ones in which they have been living in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mrs. Koch stood fast during a pre-race ceremony that honored her son that was so moving, I felt fortunate to have my eyes shielded behind my dark sunglasses. Absent someone seeing me wiping the corner of either eye, my tears went unnoticed. She stood front and center as people spoke of a young man who was not simply a soldier or a hero but who was her little boy. From where Ryan and I stood we could see her battling her emotions, which she did beautifully. Upon the completion of the ceremony she did what Ryan and I did. She moved to the starting area and competed in the 5K. A remarkable woman.

As for my wingman, he appeared as happy to have been there as I was to have had him. He ran well, which is always good but got as much I think out of the ceremonies before and after the race as he did out of a quick 3.1 mile jaunt on a Sunday morning in September. I might have had some explaining to do had he not been able to move away from the Army's Recruiting tent with only a small American flag and a hat.

He is but sixteen years old presently. Whether he decides to renew acquaintances with them at a later date is a decision left up to him and his parents. It is a decision left for another day.

Perhaps a day as remarkable as Sunday was. Or perhaps it just felt that way, courtesy of the company I kept.


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