Run for the Fallen, With Stops on LBI, Honors NJ Gold Star Families

Sep 27, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

On an unseasonably warm fall weekend at the Jersey Shore, more than two dozen active duty men and women shed their uniforms in favor of running attire before beginning a 190-mile run as a tribute to every fallen New Jersey service member, honoring their service and sacrifice. And while the weather slowed down their timeline a little each day, it didn’t stop the event from culminating at the New Jersey Vietnam War Memorial in Holmdel on Sunday, Gold Star Mother’s and Families Day.

They ran from Cape May Lighthouse to Wildwood, Stone Harbor/Avalon, Sea Isle City, Ocean City, Somers Point, Egg Harbor, Galloway, Tuckerton, Long Beach Island, Waretown, Toms River, Brick, Mantoloking, Point Pleasant, Sea Girt, Belmar, Bradley Beach, Asbury Park, Long Branch, Oceanport, Shrewsbury and Lincroft for the deceased veterans – regardless of war, conflict, service branch or manner of death. Each mile is dedicated to a fallen hero and his or her family. The run team stops every mile, giving tribute to the fallen by name, with the presentation of a flag and personalized biographical card to waiting family members, friends and compatriots with the goal of creating a 190-mile memorial along the Jersey Shore.

At the Ship Bottom firehouse Sept. 22, the fallen hero honored was Air Force St. Sgt. Phillip J. Zaneri, who gave his life in service to his country Dec. 16, 1995. He was Black Ops.

“Those guys are never celebrated,” said his mother, Elizabeth, as she waited for runners to appear on Central Avenue. She explained that no one really knows where they go or what they do, except for fellow Black Ops and they don’t talk about it. “He used to call me and tell me ... say you won’t hear from me for a while.”

The night before he was killed in action he called his mother, told her he was sending home Christmas presents and that he loved her. She told him she loved him, too, and couldn’t wait for him to be home. The next day there was a knock on her door, the kind every military family dreads.

“The scar in your heart never goes away,” she said. “Every year you cope with it a little different, stronger.”

“It’s very emotional,” said Ed Zapf of Little Egg Harbor, a Coast Guard reservist for the past 22 years and one of the runners. He was active duty for four years. “They (Gold Star families) appreciate it and we appreciate it.”

Zapf said he runs for all the Coast Guard servicemen and women who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice, and as many fallen heroes as he possibly can.

Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Hickey, 108 Wing Command Post, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, saw the run in 2014 and thought it was “awesome. I just started making phone calls to see how I could get involved.”

Hickey, who grew up in Bayville, knew several of the fallen heroes being honored this year and helped get the memory of Air Force Capt. Robert Mendez added to the run. Mendez died earlier this year. Participating in the run has allowed Hickey to meet Gold Star families and help arrange for those members to meet other Gold Star families, or learn about other resources.

“It’s important for them to know someone is there for them,” Hickey said, noting that being a runner is the easy part of the race. “I run for 15 miles a day and stop after each mile for a ceremony. It’s all the support that goes into putting this together. People are dedicated to this all year, and coordinating with the towns ... it’s awe inspiring.”

For the last two years, Mark Innocenzi has hosted the run team and others associated with the run for a party at his home in Long Beach Township. His brother, Paul, a chief warrant officer in the Marine Corps, died of injuries from a suicide truck bomb attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983. A total of 299 American and French servicemen were killed in the attack. Of that number, 220 were Marines, 18 Navy personnel and three Army soldiers, along with 60 Americans injured. It represented the deadliest single-day death toll for the Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, the deadliest single-day death toll for the U.S. military since the first day of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War, and the deadliest single attack on Americans overseas since World War II.

Gina G. Scala


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