• Community turns out to Run for the Fallen

  • Fallen service members and their families honored at 2018 Run for the Fallen.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    “He was one in a million. He loved everybody growing up. He was just one of those kids that it didn’t matter who you were or where you came from or what you did, he loved you no matter what. He was here before his time. He was sent here to brighten people’s days,” Andrew Yohnka of Lee’s Summit, Mo., said of his son, Spc. Grant Yohnka, who died July 3, 2002, from a brain tumor while he was serving with the 5th Engineer Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
    “Even though he died the way he died, he loved what he did in the Army and he lived life to the fullest.”
    Yohnka was one of several volunteers at the eighth annual Run/Walk for the Fallen Sept. 15 at the Frontier Conference Center.
    As he helped participants fill out bibs before the race, Yohnka said some didn’t know who to run the event in memory of, so he suggested his son.
    “It makes me happy to know that somebody is running for him,” Yohnka said. “As a Gold Star father, you always in the back of your head think, ‘Who is going to remember my kid when I’m gone?’ This keeps things alive and that’s what I like about it.”
    Other volunteers included members of the Leavenworth Junior ROTC and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers who helped refill water cups, cut fruit and keep participants on the course, said Christina Long, Survivor Outreach Services program manager.
    The Run for the Fallen first started in 2010 when it was suggested by then-SOS coordinator Sharon Adams.
    “Sharon had seen that they had done something similar to this across the United States and that’s when she decided to bring it forward to see if we would be open to putting this on for the installation,” said Glenn Hewitt, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation director. “The first year we had maybe 200 and last year we had (more than) 1,500.”
    The annual event, put on by SOS, is meant to honor fallen service members and recognize their surviving family members.
    “What a beautiful day to remember our fallen heroes as we celebrate their lives and thank them for their ultimate sacrifice,” said Garrison Commander Col. Marne Sutten. “A special thanks goes out to the family members for everything you have given to our country. We love and bless you and your family and if you ever need anything, the Fort Leavenworth community is here to support you.
    “The month of September is a month to remember those families, those sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers who have lost a service member,” Sutten said. “So, I ask that not only do you celebrate their lives today, but that you continue to celebrate their lives throughout the month of September and the rest of the year.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Flags lined the starting line as the race began and participants donned bibs displaying the names of service members lost. Many, like Yohnka, had a personal connection to the service member.
    “My brother was strong and brave, but he also had a wonderful sense of humor,” said Bradley Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Ally Eckert Jackson, of her brother Sgt. Andy Eckert, who died May 8, 2005, in Iraq of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his humvee.
    “As a Gold Star family member, I remember my brother every day. This event gives the entire community a chance to come together and show that they remember the ultimate sacrifice that these soldiers have given.”
    Trevor Graham, archive technician at the Center for Army Lessons Learned, ran for 1st Sgt. Robert Callahan, who died in July.
    Callahan was Graham’s first squad leader in the 5th Infantry Division at Fort Polk, La., after he enlisted into the Army in 1990.
    “When I came into the Army, I had been to college and I assumed I knew everything and he let me know pretty quick I didn’t,” Graham said. “He was a very good guy and he cared about the soldiers. He was a great motivator and he could live what he taught.”
    For retired 1st Sgt. Paul Montgomery, who has participated in the event since it began, he has run every year for Master Sgt. Donald Johnson, but his connection to Johnson stops at their shared rank.
    “I never met the guy, but as a soldier it just means a lot (having this event),” Montgomery said.
    Graham said it is important that all service members are remembered.
    “No one needs to be forgotten,” Graham said. “Everybody made a sacrifice and everybody here understands the sacrifice. They deserve the respect of not being forgotten.”
    SOS currently serves 790 Gold Star families. For more information, call 684-2821.
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