The Jersey Shore is known mostly for boardwalks, beachside antics, and, of course, a certain hardboiled reality show. Before summer’s end, though, it will be known as a stomping ground for heroes.
On September 28, the grueling NJ Run for the Fallen will get underway in Cape May. A core team of runners consisting of active duty military will kick off on a route which will journey from Cape May Lighthouse to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Holmdel.
The closing ceremony will be held at PNC Bank Arts Center on September 30, which is also National Gold Star Mother’s Day. Gold Star mothers and families are those that have lost children in the war. The servicemen and women who are participating will be gutting it out as a tribute to their brethren who have given our country the ultimate sacrifice: Their Lives.
“The greatest fear of a fallen soldier’s family is that their child will be forgotten,” said Marjorie Sietsma, longtime Wyckoff resident and local chapter president of the Blue Star Mothers of America.
Started at the height of WWII in 1942, Blue Star Mothers is a national organization and consists of matriarchs of active duty personnel. The moms help in all sorts of ways and even send out about 500 care packages a year to soldiers in need. Sietsma’s own son is a Marine who’s been in special ops for four years in an anti-terrorism fleet.
“I’ve been to 13 funerals in Northern New Jersey, where at the wakes, we present the families with a gold star banner,” said Sietsma. “You never forget that.”
“So many people don’t even know that we’re in their area,” said Sietsma. “We’re trying to get the word out to families that there’s someone out there for them.”
The Blue Star moms are one of many organizations that have gotten behind the NJ Run for the Fallen. This is the first year that the run will last three days. There are more than 60 members of the military running, so teams of three or four will run about seven miles each. Each mile is dedicated to a soldier who died in the Iraq-Afghanistan conflict.
“We stop each mile at hero markers, which are dedicated to a hero,” said Mike Simpson, President of the NJ Run for the Fallen. “We notify the family and friends of the fallen soldier to meet us at each hero marker and present them with a flag and bio of their soldier, which we carry while running.”
The run isn’t just strictly for servicemen, either. In fact, Simpson said he welcomes all comers to run, attend the closing ceremony or just cheer on the sidelines. There is also a 2K walk/run and five-mile stretch at the end of the run, where civilians are encouraged to participate.
“We only ask that those who want to participate register beforehand and that they are capable of maintaining the pace,” said Simpson.
Simpson said that because the roads are closed for as long as the run is underway, participants need to be able to run a 10-minute mile to keep up with the runners. They slow their pace a little at the end, but they still have to get in on time. Participants are then able to join in on the closing ceremony. Simpson is calling for support throughout New Jersey, north and south, not just the areas surrounding the run.
“Our fallen heroes come from all over New Jersey, but we can’t run all the way through the state,” said Simpson.
“One of the things we’re looking for is to get the word out,” said Rob Grant, coordinator for NJ Run for the Fallen. “Spectators can find out where we’ll be running, and it’s supportive for people to just stand on the side of the road and cheer us on.”
“We want to show respect and give contribution and commemorate the sacrifice of New Jersey service members,” said Grant.
Eatontown’s Ken Gurbisz knows how important it is to families that people support the troops. He and his wife, Helen, are Gold Star parents. His son, Capt. James M. Gurbisz died when a bomb exploded in Baghdad in 2005. Capt. James M. Gurbisz will be honored at hero marker 162. The Gurbisz family is working on building a monument to honor Gold Star families, which should be ready for next year’s run.
Gurbisz also stressed that the military men and women don’t do it for money, because most of them often are so underpaid they qualify for food stamps. They do it for the love of their country.
“I’m a Vietnam vet and the way were treated when we got home was a shame,” said Gurbisz. “I never want to see that happen again.
“The best thing we can do is not to forget about the troops,” said Gurbisz. “We want to treat them with honor, because they gave their lives to protect us and the country.”
The NJ Run for the Fallen is a small way for the living — those who fought alongside their comrades and those who knew them — to pay respect one footstep, one stride, one mile at a time.
For more info on how you can participate visit the NJ Run for the Fallen 2012 website.
Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.