Run to freedom in Calif. honors post-9/11 war dead
The Record, Stockton, Calif.
STOCKTON, Calif. — A dozen years after 9/11 and nine years after her son died in Iraq, 58-year-old Jan Martinez still remembers the men at the door.
"When you see the soldiers standing there, you know," she said. "For a second I wondered, 'If I close the door, will they go away?' "
Of course, they didn't, and Martinez received the crushing news that her son, Army Pfc. Jesse Jack Martinez, 20, had been killed near Mosul, Iraq.
At the time, he was the 10th soldier with San Joaquin County ties - the fourth from Tracy - to die in military operations following the terrorist attacks on the United States.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, 740 Californians have given their lives in either Iraq or Afghanistan - 33 of them with county connections.
Jan Martinez and a coalition of Gold Star Moms and active-duty personnel at Travis Air Force Base are doing what they can to remember those who have died.
For the second year in a row, they have organized a California Run for the Fallen, a three-day, 150-mile event that involves posting American flags and small biographical cards, one for each of the state's 740 war dead.
The runners, in groups of four, will stop at one-mile intervals, plant and salute the flags, read the names of those who have fallen and then move on. Eighty to 100 runners, most of them stationed at Travis, are participating.
"Our intent is to create a 150-mile long memorial trail through California," organizers have declared.
Two-thirds of the course winds through San Joaquin County. The run starts Friday night in Elk Grove, then enters the county at dawn Saturday on Lower Sacramento Road just north of Liberty Road. All day Saturday, groups of runners will stop and go at dozens of Hero Markers in Acampo, Lockeford, Lodi, Stockton, Manteca and Tracy.
A primary north-south artery will be West Lane as it becomes Airport Way. Runners will head west when it turns into Durham Ferry Road and then turn north into Tracy on Chrisman Road. It zig zags inside the city limits.
One of Saturday's highlights will take place about 5:30 p.m. at Tracy Cemetery near the corner of Schulte Road and MacArthur Drive.
Jan Martinez will be there.
Her son and Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Christopher Dewey, also 20 when he was killed in Iraq, are buried at the cemetery. The East Union High School Jr. ROTC cadets will provide a color guard and the runners will pause for a special ceremony.
"They are staying overnight in Tracy," Martinez said. "We're planning a dinner for them at St. Paul's Lutheran Church before they take off the next morning headed north for Dixon."
The run ends Sunday afternoon at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery just off Interstate 80. Those flags and bio cards not planted along the way will create a "field of flags" at the veterans' cemetery.
One of the more famous individuals to be memorialized will be Army Cpl. (posthumously) Pat Tillman, a former NFL player killed in action in 2004 by friendly fire in Afghanistan. Tillman will be remembered at Hero Marker 41 on West Lane just south of Hammertown Drive in northeast Stockton.
Runners will plant Tillman's flag and bio card at 11:10 a.m. Saturday.
"It's 1 percent of our country that's carrying these wars," said Karen Meredith of Mountain View, who works with the media for the Gold Star Moms. "We want to remind the people of California that these troops have stood up for the state. We don't want to forget."
She said the extensive use of San Joaqiun County's highways and back roads for an event memorializing military personnel statewide was intentional.
"It made sense with the logistics," she said. "We were there last year and the course has been set, plus it is close to Travis. And there has been strong support from the law enforcement agencies."
The Patriot Guard Riders, a veterans' motorcycle organization with a large county membership, will help provide escort.
Jan Martinez echoes the notion of never forgetting.
Tracy, with a population of 84,200, has lost nine young people to the war on terrorism, one of the highest rates per capita of any city in the United States. Tracy has named several of its streets after those who've fallen.
"When those soldiers came to my door, I told them I felt sorry for them," she said. "I'd been a military wife for a long time. I just don't want people to forget.
"We shouldn't forget our kids. I want to keep Jesse's memory alive."