Their sacrifice, however, has not been forgotten.
After running nonstop for 10 days and 1,500 miles, Marines at Fort Gordon were joined by 700 service members Thursday to complete the final lap of its ninth annual Tribute to the Fallen to honor the more than 1,500 Marines and Navy sailors who died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Fifteen hundred miles – one mile for each of the 1,500 Marines and Navy corpsman heroes – each with their own unique story and each remembered by name,” Capt. Dallas Butler, commanding officer of the Fort Gordon Marine Corp said in closing the remembrance.
While the 1,500 lost were not individually recognized, Butler said the fallen heroes, their sacrifices, and their friends and families were equally in the Fort Gordon Marines’ and Navy sailors’ thoughts and prayers throughout the run.
“We owe you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid,” Butler said in honor of the families who lost a loved one. “These heroes are forever part of this nation’s history. They’re gone. They’re terribly missed, but they are not – and will never be – forgotten.”
Capt. Jim Brokaw, commanding officer of the Navy Information Operations Command at Fort Gordon, thanked the Marines for allowing his staff to participate in the tribute.
He said the event brought his sailors great pride, reaffirming their commitment to never forget their fallen comrades who “gave their all in the service of our country.”
“As we honor our fallen each of us must renew our vow to ensure that none of these fallen brothers in arms, America’s sons and daughters, have lost their lives in vain,” he said.
Brokaw said the fallen heroes’ sacrifice is woven into America’s service heritage, which each member of the military carries into battle.
“We must commit ourselves to being ready to answer the call of our nation – we are America’s fighting forces; we are always ready; and we are always proud to serve,” he said. “None of us know when the call to serve will come, but when it does we will be willing and we will go.”
Brokaw’s words brought a round of applause and reverence from the crowd, including Marine Sgt. Joshua Carter, who on Thursday completed his fifth Tribute to the Fallen run.
Carter said he ran at least 25 laps around the 3-mile track circling Fort Gordon’s Barton Field in honor of more than 70 Marines who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Among the fallen he ran for include Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar O. Baez, 37, of California, who died in Iraq on June 15, 2005, as a result of enemy small arms fire. Baez, a hospital corpsman, was conducting combat operations for the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
“It is the least we can to honor the men and women who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms and privileges we get to experience every day,” said Carter, who the week before ran in the Marine Corps Marathon.
Carter, a father of two, said he uses the run to pay his respects to the mothers and fathers of the fallen.
“They came before us, but they’ll never be forgotten,” Carter said.