'Sole' survivors of Nijmegen march
NIJMEGEN, Netherlands — For Sgt. Jonathan Calvo, the 100-mile, four-day Nijmegen marches hurt really good.
“I loved it and I hated it,” said Calvo, who stretched out on the grass in the finishing area after walking the last 25 miles Friday.
About halfway into the day’s miles, Calvo thought sure he couldn’t go on. His teammates from the 226th Medical Logistics Battalion out of Miesau, Germany, kept him afloat.
“When you think you’re finished, you realize there are people there to pick you up,” Calvo, 24, of Guam, said. “It was bittersweet.”
At last, the miles ended for the 197 U.S. military members who completed the 87th annual Four Days Marches in Nijmegen. More than 200 military members started the march Tuesday.
More than 44,000 people marched this year.
Many marchers entered the end zone with sprigs of gladiolus flowers, sunflowers and roses hanging off their rucksacks — a gift from well-wishers along the route.
Military members got medals showing they’d made the trek.
“I kind of feel like we’ve done what we came to do and now it’s time to celebrate,” said Spc. Corey Guthrie of the Darmstadt, Germany-based 2nd Military Intelligence Battalion.
Guthrie, 20, of New Haven, Vt., was going to get his wish. Soldiers changed into fresh uniforms, cleaned their boots and shed their 22-pound rucksacks to march another three miles into downtown Nijmegen for a huge bash. Nearly 1 million people gathered in the town square to fete the marchers in style.
“They’re hugging on you, kissing you, handing you a beer,” said Capt. Joe Barber, also of the 2nd MI Battalion, who did the march last year, too.
By Friday, the week’s sweltering weather had cooled and many of the teams made their fastest times ever. Most teams left the Dutch military camp where they slept by 4 a.m. The first American team made it to the finish line by 1:30 p.m.
Most were stoic about the pain they felt. Sgt. Edwin Gonzales’ shoes took the brunt of his 100 miles. The seams on the left boot were frayed through to his socks.
“But I don’t have one blister,” said Gonzales, 24, of Queens, N.Y. His 226th Medical Battalion teammate, Sgt. John Telesmanick, wore his Nijmegen medal on his chest and had a bough of gladioluses in his rucksack.
Telesmanick, 23, of Tampa, Fla., didn’t feel much like getting up to go to the after party. But he was going to, anyway.
“I’m just going to sit in a chair and relax, and we’re not walking around no more.”