Once it was clear that I was no longer running the Marine Corps Marathon, I knew I wanted to do something special on the day besides just spectate. (I should put "just" in quotes because crowd support is so important and motivating and is part of what makes races so much fun, but still.) When I heard from the mama runners at Springfield MRTT that wear blue: run to remember still needed lots of volunteers for the blue mile, I knew it was what I wanted to do. wear blue sponsors the blue mile at many major races and all of the big military ones, and it packs a powerful emotional punch. wear blue chapters also sponsor group runs that begin with a circle of remembrance, in which people call out the names of servicemen and women they're remembering and running for. I've been to two wear blue events and both were large, and still, every name was heard.
One of the goals of wear blue is to "bridge the gap between military and civilian communities." I guess I'm symbolic of that bridge because I didn't grow up in a military family. My brother spent four years in the Marines (and ran MCM this year!) but he's really the only one. When I moved to Northern Virginia and began serving a church with a large population of military folks, that was my first experience in that community and understanding what they go through.
I've run in races that had a blue mile. Many people I know find the courage to continue a tough race when they see those photos and those flags. At Rock n Roll DC, the blue mile goes up the hardest hill, and many friends say that inspiration pushes them up. They run for the fallen who can't.
For me it's the opposite. The blue mile takes my breath away. It wrecks me. Such a loss of honor and youth and talent. I stop short of being an all-out pacifist, but I'm a bleeding heart down deep.
But guess what? So are many military families I know. And few people can understand the full cost of war like a family member who's holding a flag with the name of their lost loved one on it.
Caroline volunteered early in the week to join me, but Margaret stayed on the fence until the day before, when she signed on too. Even so, at the 4:30 a.m. wakeup call she was just too tired... "but I might as well go to the bathroom since I'm awake." I said that was fine, but I knew she'd decide to go for it and sure enough, she came downstairs soon after, dressed and ready to go.
We reported to the volunteer site, mile 12 on Hains Point. After a checkin and brief instructions we received our flags:
After the circle of remembrance, we lined up. The blue mile consists of a series of photos of the fallen:
And then a series of flags, each bearing a black ribbon with a servicemember's name. I heard someone say they keep the photos separate from the flags because the photos are so somber. It is a reflective way to enter the mile. People can be seen looking for a specific photo or touching each picture, often with tears on their faces.
After the photos is the line of flags. It's good these are separated from the photos because this part manages to be reverent and raucous at the same time, as flag-bearers cheer loudly for the runners as they come through.
And boy did they come through, 30,000 of them over several hours, beginning with the hand-cyclists. Amazing:
And here comes the first runner through the mile, though he ended up not being the one who won.
One of the hidden benefits of being at the blue mile is that you see everyone pass by, from the fastest runners to the most determined walkers, who are eyeing the sweep buses and often nursing injuries. But also, friends who were running knew exactly where to look to find me. I gave lots of hugs and high fives to friends who were giving their best on those streets.
The girls and I also had Jolly Ranchers in case people needed a little something for parched throats, but we ended up eating most of them:
Blue tongue aside, every time we passed the photos Margaret would say "There are so many of them." I think she was glad she participated, but she was one-and-done. The earliness of the hour was hard, but really I think it touched her emotionally.
I'm happy I volunteered. It was humbling to be thanked for it, which many runners did. It was an honor to be there.