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Brothers to run Marine Corps Marathon in memory of late father, William O'Connor

By BRENDAN KURIE | The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass. | Published: October 26, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Kevin O'Connor never planned to run a marathon.

But for years he said if he ever did, there was only one he'd even consider: The Marine Corps Marathon, in honor of his father, William O'Connor, who served in the 1st Battalion, 13th Marine Regiment in Vietnam from 1967-68, fought in the Battle of Khe Sanh and reached the rank of major.

"Our dad served in one of the most horrific wars in U.S. history," said Kevin O'Connor. "He didn't talk about it a lot until the later years. ... To be able to run with the Marines is very meaningful for us that we can honor him this way."

If William, who passed away in 2009, were alive today, he'd be more than surprised to see his two sons, Kevin and Matt, preparing to run 26.2 miles on Sunday in Washington, D.C. William was never a big runner, but Matt does recall their father going out for morning runs before work, and as a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, was involved in the transfer of the New Bedford Half Marathon from the New Bedford Track Club, but he, too, was never a marathoner.

"My father was was one of the big proponents of it," Matt said.

Matt had started dabbling in running in junior high, and while he says he's never been fast, he has completed the New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon and a marathon on the Great Wall of China.

But Kevin was never a runner. A 1984 Dartmouth High graduate, Kevin could be found playing the mellophone in the Dartmouth High marching band. He first started running about a year-and-a-half ago. It started when a family friend challenged his wife, Rhonda, to run a half marathon. Kevin later started training with them and ran his first 5K in November of last year.

He worked his way up to a half marathon, then figured he had maxed out.

"Looking back, I remember saying if I were to run a full marathon, it would only be the Marine Corps Marathon," he said. "That's the one to honor dad."

Feeling some inspiration, he called Matt and asked if they should enter the marathon's lottery.

"Kevin called me back in March," Matt recalled. "He said he was going to sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon. He then asked if I was interested. Of course I was! ... It's something I thought of doing before, it's one of those things I was kind of kicking myself that I should have dragged him into it. It was a great idea."

Kevin's next call was to Bob Correia, a fellow Dartmouth High alum who had started running with Rhonda about three years ago.

"We were at Kevin's house, sitting around the fire pit in January, a couple of bottles of wine deep and Mark and Rhonda are talking about running a half marathon and they're like 'You should run with us,'" Bob said.

"A half marathon?" Correia thought. "13 miles? In November? Yeah, I can do that. It's only January."

Bob, who graduated from Dartmouth High in 1985, had never been an athlete or runner either, instead playing tuba in the band. He ran his first half marathon in November 2017 and has since worked his way up in distance until he tackled the Disney Marathon in January of this year, finishing in five-and-a-half hours.

"I started enjoying it," he said. "I'd get out there and put on my headphones and forget about the day's troubles and work things out in my own head while enjoying Mother Nature."

So when Kevin called asking if he'd enter the lottery, Bob jumped at the opportunity, owing to his memories of William, who he called "a second dad."

"As you can imagine, the one thing about Bill is he was definitely a Major in the Marines," Correia said. "He was definitely straight-forward. He never pulled any punches. The first time I met him I was almost intimidated, until he starts talking and you realize he's a big teddy bear. As a person he was one of the nicest, kindest gentlemen I ever met."

William, who lived in Dartmouth with his wife, Marcella, from the early 1980s until his death, was a former chairman of the Dartmouth Housing Authority and was instrumental in the creation of the O'Connor Sisson House for veterans on State Road in Dartmouth, which was named for him and Charles Sisson.

Kevin, Matt and Bob soon found out they'd all been selected in the lottery. That meant it was time to train. Kevin took his tips from Bob.

"He said just to make sure you're out there every week increasing your miles," Kevin said. "Once you do 20, you'll be able to do 26. He gave me the confidence of being able to do the full marathon."

Kevin was training in Florida, where he lives in Orlando and works as a licensed optician. Bob also lives in Florida, in Celebration, and is a construction manager for Disney. Matt, meanwhile, was training here in New Bedford, where he works as a financial consultant for Webster Bank.

On Sunday they will gather for the start of the race, which winds its way from Arlington, near the National Cemetery, past the Pentagon, across the Potomac, by the Lincoln Memorial, down the National Mall, around the Capitol and over to the Jefferson Monument before finishing back in Arlington.

"I'm looking forward to taking in all the sights," Kevin said. "There's a whole lot of things going on and there's a lot of things to see along the way. The Navy band will be there. There's a Blue Mile that's a tribute to fallen soldiers who have died in active duty. There's a reason they call it the Monument Marathon."

It's also referred to as the People's Marathon, and that's how Kevin, Matt and Bob plan to run it. They don't have any goals to hit a certain time. They aren't trying to qualify for anything. They're just hoping to finish and, in the process, honor a man they looked up to.

"To me, it's just a great way to keep his memory alive and I'd like to see, if we all survive it, it could be something we could turn it into a family tradition," Matt said. "It's a remembrance for my father. Being able to run it with my brother will be great."

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