Run For the Fallen Honors New Jersey’s Military Heroes in Annual 190-Mile Trek
The family of Chief Warrant Officer Paul Innocenzi III had a bottle of champagne waiting in their Beach Haven Gardens summer home refrigerator for when Paul returned home from Beirut, Lebanon. Paul never made it home after he and 240 others were killed by a truck bomb at a Marine compound on Oct. 23, 1983.
“The bottle is still in the refrigerator, and it survived Superstorm Sandy,” said Mark Innocenzi, Paul’s younger brother, who on Sept. 23 hosted at 1 West Ryerson Lane the entire New Jersey Run For the Fallen team during the middle of its four-day, 190-mile trek from Cape May to Holmdel in honor of the state’s fallen military heroes.
“We’ve had this home in the family for about 45 years, and Paul was engaged in this house and honeymooned here. And it was really awesome to be able to have such a big family celebration, with so many of our brothers and sisters from our military family here, in honor of Paul. It’s hard to describe it in words. I only wish my parents were around to see it.”
Following last year’s Run For the Fallen, the Innocenzi family had asked organizers to move Paul’s “Hero Marker” to the corner of West Ryerson and Long Beach Boulevard.
“The group’s president, Mike Simpson, and the local coordinator, Gene O’Grady, allowed us to have it right in front of the house,” Innocenzi said. “And they were going to have the team dinner at a restaurant, and we thought that was too impersonal. So we offered and arranged to have all of them come to our house.”
Six weeks before the run was scheduled to kick off in Cape May, Paul Innocenzi Jr. passed away, but Mark, brother Scott and the rest of the family agreed to keep the plans intact.
“On his death bed, my dad requested that we still have the dinner at our house, so that’s what we did,” said Innocenzi, whose celebration included some 90 people, and the run team, which arrived about 6:30 p.m., was treated to volunteer services by a crew of medical and wellness personnel.
“It’s a day of thank-yous, really. The run team is thanking us for the sacrifices we made, and we’re thanking them because they keep Paul’s memory alive.”
On Friday, the run team and its convoy of support staff left Somers Point and made its way northward, eventually ending up in Mystic Island, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor, before moving on through West Creek and part of Stafford Township, then crossing over to the Island, where they first went north through Harvey Cedars, Loveladies and Barnegat Light before heading south to Beach Haven.
On Saturday, the team and crew went back to the mainland and continued on the course through Manahawkin, Barnegat and Waretown before heading north toward Toms River, and ultimately ended up in Holmdel on Sunday.
Manahawkin Elks Lodge 2340 hosted the team breakfast Saturday morning and one of the stops in Barnegat included American Legion Post 232, where one of the honorees was SPC James E. Smith. Michael Compton received the run team’s gifts on behalf of the Smith family.
“I grew up with James, and since the family couldn’t be here today, I volunteered to represent them,” said Compton, of Long Valley. “It was an honor to be here, representing James’ family, and receive the generous gifts from the Run For the Fallen team. It’s great that they do this. It’s their way of paying respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and it was worth making the trip here to honor James.”
Senior Master Sgt. Randy Senkle said 26 active military members were part of this year’s run team, and each individual or family representing a fallen hero was presented with a dog tag, “challenge” coin and gold-star flag with the hero’s name on it.
“Every mile, we honor one of the fallen, a hero who gave his or her life for our country,” Senkle said. “We cover 190 miles and it takes us a few days to do it, but we do this for a reason, and it’s to let the families know that we honor them for the sacrifice they made.”
In addition to Innocenzi and Smith, the team’s run through Southern Ocean County also honored these heroes and their families:
First Lt. Louis E. Allen; PFC Domingo Arroyo; PFC Stephen C. Benish; SSgt. Oscar Canon; Pvt. Christopher Castaneda; Sgt. Steven Checo; SSG Robert J. Chiomento; Sgt. Joseph L. Diaz Jr.; 2nd Lt. Seth J. Dvorin; SSG Gerald Giordano Jr.; SPC Michael L. Gonzalez; SPC Kyle A. Griffin; Capt. Sean Grimes; Pvt. Ronald R. Harrison; Sgt. Eric J. Hernandez; SPC Michael A. Hook; SPC Hai Ming Hsia; SPC Marlon P. Jackson; SPC Alain L. Kamolvathin; SSG Edward Karolasz; SPC Kareem Khan; BM2 Scott Martin Lape; SSG John D. Linde; SSG Christian Longsworth; PFC Miguel A. Marcial III; SSG Timothy R. McGill; SPC Gil Mercardo; PFC Bruce Miller Jr.; SPC Benjamin Moore; Sgt. Joel Perez; Sgt. Dominick M. Pilla; Major John P. Pryor; and SSgt. Philip J. Zaneri.