FORT LEE — Darlene Kelly made the drive from Portsmouth to Fort Lee to honor her son, Sgt. Shawn Dunkin. Dunkin, who was born in Petersburg and stationed out of Fort Drum, was killed during his second tour of Iraq on Feb. 19, 2007. Dunkin was 25 years old and left behind a wife.
"That was the worst news I've ever had in my entire life. It's a pain that no parent should ever have to go through," Kelly said of losing her son, who wanted to be in the military since he was four or 5 years old. Kelly was one of over 5,500 who participated in Saturday's Run for the Fallen at Fort Lee. The fourth annual run honors those who lost their lives while serving their country. Participants ran or walked either one or 5-mile courses in their memory.
The event was created after civilians ran from Fort Irwin in California to Arlington National Cemetery in 2008. The number of miles they ran was approximately the same number as those who were killed in the war on terrorism at the time.
Many family members of survivors, like Kelly, were present to honor their loved one at the event, which was open to the public.
"This is so heartwarming ... they don't forget. They're keeping our sons and daughters' memories alive, and that's all we want. We of course are never gonna forget 'em, but the whole community doesn't forget 'em either," Kelly said.
Angela Bellamy, support coordinator for Survivor Outreach Services and event organizer, said the number of participants this year exceeded that of last year. At last year's run, more than 3,200 participants ran over 10,000 miles. Bellamy said that in addition to honoring the fallen, the run helps survivors with the healing process.
"The fact that they know that these soldiers care and that everybody cares and that their loved ones not forgotten is the most important thing," she said.
Christine Murphy, financial counselor with Survivor Outreach Services, said it's important to maintain relationships with the families so they know they're not alone.
"It is part of a covenant we made with these families, that they can stay connected to the Army family for as long as they wish ... So this is just a very tangible way of saying we're making good on that promise to not forget you or your loved one," Murphy said.
Cheryl Coluccio was walking for her son, Specialist Michael Pyron of Hopewell, who was killed in Afghanistan two years ago. Pyron's eight and 10-year-old sons joined her to remember their father.
"I think I'm just starting to feel like I can interact with the military, and I just miss him so much and this just brings me a little closer to him. I think he's looking down on me and he wants me to do this," Coluccio said.