Runners finish the inaugural Run for the Fallen in Portland's Monument Square.
OGUNQUIT, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Three years ago a group of volunteers quickly came together to organize a run in honor of service men and women from Maine killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The event was a way for people locally to get involved in the national Run for the Fallen, which traveled from California to Arlington Cemetery in Virginia - over four thousand miles from June till August 2008 - to remember the service men and women killed in combat since 2001.
"This is the reason that we have our freedom, because of what they did and those before them did," explained John Mixon, one of the tireless volunteers behind Maine's run.
"The men are gone," added Mixon. "I mean we are never going to bring them back and those families will always be suffering, and you know whatever we can do to help them heal is a good thing for us."
When that initial Run for the Fallen ended in Maine, runners and families members were kind of left hanging - the emotional run was over and it was time to go home.
"We didn't realize until the event ended that they really hadn't met each other and that they had this common bond but there was no system in place, on the state or even the federal level, to ever introduce them," said Mixon.
He says plans were set in motion to do the run again the following year, and add a lobster bake at the end of the run to give the families a chance to meet and talk about their loss, their loved ones, as well as the pain and struggles they've endured.
Now in its fourth year, the run has grown in ways good and bad. The first year runners traveled fifty-five miles, one mile for each service member from Maine killed since 2001. The course hugged the coast from Veteran's Park in Ogunquit to Portland's Monument Square. This year the run will honor seventy-nine men and women but travel a similar course, which has been capped at sixty-five kilometers to allow time for the post run celebration.
The run has also attracted more runners and support. Organizers will be awarding scholarships to the children of service members, and the group provided much of the funding and push to get the state to award Gold Star license plates to family members. (Governor LePage intends to present the first Gold Star plates at this year's post run event).
Maine's Run for the Fallen has also inspired volunteers in other states to start runs of their own.
"I was inspired from the beginning to the end," stated Julie Hurrie, who ran last year for the first time. "It was just a very emotional, moving day for me and it really changed my life."
Hurrie says the day after running in Maine, she started planning a similar event in New Hampshire.
"People have been really supportive of it, so it hasn't been an effort to get people interested," said Hurrie.
"Although we can't understand the pain that they feel, and I don't think we will ever be able to understand that, that we do appreciate their sacrifice and that their loved ones are not forgotten, I think that is the most important part," added Hurrie.
Mixon says he has also been contacted by organizers in Connecticut and Idaho, as well as the province of Quebec, to help them create remembrance runs of their own.
The runs in Maine and New Hampshire are both scheduled for August 21st with opening ceremonies starting at 7:45am and the run beginning at 8am.
Maine's run starts in Ogunquit at Veteran's Park and ends in Portland's Monument Square.
New Hampshire's run starts and ends at Odiorne State Park in Rye.
If you would like to get involved, either as a runner or a volunteer, you can find more information on the Run for the Fallen Maine website or Run for the Fallen New Hampshire website.