SMITHVILLE - The events of 9/11 are forever seared into the memories of Americans and events such as the Smithville Freedom Run go the extra mile to ensure we take the time to remember.
The Smithville Freedom Run, which is in its third year and includes a 5K and 1K, is an event that honors not only the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but also first responders and members of the military and their families. With that goal, the funds raised during the run went to the PBA Local No. 77, the USO of Southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and Galloway Township’s Official Military Funeral Honor Guard — Last Salute.
“We do this run so we will never forget,” said Anthony J. Coppola Jr, deputy mayor of Galloway Township during his opening ceremony speech Sept. 9.
While the events of 9/11 were ever present during the ceremony speeches, Coppola focused on the patriotism that sprung up across the country in the days after the terrorist attacks.
“When Americans are faced with adversity, we come together,” said Coppola, who also remarked that he had never seen so many American flags as in the days after the attacks.
While American patriotism was on full display during the opening ceremonies, there was an air of somberness as well. Once the speeches were over, the Last Salute Military Honor Guard gently unfurled an American flag and held it up, before tenderly refolding it and placing it on a table in front of a cross made out of steel beams from the Twin Towers. The opening ceremonies, which always start at 8:46 because that was when the first plane hit, also included a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps.
“If I could do this every single day, I would,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Kyle Ragland, who is a part of the all-volunteer Last Salute Military Honor Guard. For Ragland, it is an honor to serve not only his country, but also his fellow man.
“Somehow, someway you are serving someone,” said Ragland. While humble, there was no hiding the note of pride in Ragland’s voice whenever he spoke of the Marines or the Last Salute Military Honor Guard.
“The hardest working honor guard around,” he said.
As the clock neared 9:11 a.m., the official start time of the race, runners gathered behind the starting line.
The runners were waiting for a unique signal to begin the run, the firing of a genuine Civil War cannon. At the exact time, the cannon roared and the runners took off.
For some of the organizers and runners, the event was deeply personal.
“9/11, I was there as a first responder. I was called up from the Coast Guard,” said Bill Kline, assistant team-leader for Atlantic County SWAT team, about why he was running in the race. Kline and his friend and fellow SWAT member, Carl D’Alessandro, dressed in full SWAT gear and ran in the 5K.
Perhaps one of the biggest lessons of the Freedom Run was captured after the race.
“Cherish every moment you have,” said Galloway Councilman Tony DiPietro.
For more information on the Smithville Freedom Run, visit http://smithvillefreedomrun.org or their Facebook page under the same name.