Sole searching: Army spouse uses boots to remember fallen servicemembers

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A Fisher House volunteer looks for boots to tag and lace Sept. 1, 2013. More than 4,000 boots were tagged and donated as part of the Fisher House Hero and Remembrance Run, slated for Sept. 7. More than 2,500 boots are still needed for the event. For more information about Fisher House or the run, contact Theresa Johnson at (808) 433-1291. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Stoltz)
A Fisher House volunteer looks for boots to tag and lace Sept. 1, 2013. More than 4,000 boots were tagged and donated as part of the Fisher House Hero and Remembrance Run, slated for Sept. 7. More than 2,500 boots are still needed for the event. For more information about Fisher House or the run, contact Theresa Johnson at (808) 433-1291. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christopher Stoltz)

Sole searching: Army spouse uses boots to remember fallen servicemembers

by: Senior Airman Christopher Stoltz | .
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam | .
published: September 06, 2013

TRIPLER HOSPITAL FISHER HOUSE, Hawaii -- Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen all have one thing in common: we all wear boots to work. Most lace them up in the mornings, while some cheat and purchase the ones with zippers on the sides. Regardless of how they are put on or what material they are comprised of, our clunky, often uncomfortable boots play a large role in our lives.

While boots are one of the first things servicemembers put on every day, it is one of the last things those killed-in-action ever wore.

This realization gave Theresa Johnson, Tripler Fisher House Manager and Army spouse, the idea to create the Fisher House Hero & Remembrance Run. While there are many events that commemorate the armed forces, this run comes with a unique take: attendees can both run and see more than 6,700 boots--one for each casualty in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.

Although this year's run is only the second iteration, Johnson said she expects more than 5,000 attendees.

However, this year's event is of particular significance to Johnson, who said her son, who is about to deploy, inspired her to create the event.

"At any time, I could be laying down a boot for my son," she said.

For this and last year's event, the boots, badges and labor is based on donations from the local community. According to Johnson, the event is not used to raise funds for the Triple Fisher House, but is an event held only to remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

"You see some really crusty old boots, but I honestly like it that way," she said. "We even have boots donated by families with stories attached to them, sharing the experiences of those who have worn them and the loved ones they left behind. We wanted to bring back names and faces, not just a number. You hear about casualty numbers all of the time on the news. We wanted to share their story, instead of 'there's another one, there's another one.' That number has a family, that number represents a person who sacrificed everything."

One of the stories on the boots was provided by former soldier Mark Eric, a six-year Army veteran who served from 2002-2008. While most families attending write stories for one boot, Mark is doing the same for 19.

"This event is a great way to honor and show respect to my friends," he said. "I donated a pair of boots I wore during both of my deployments. This is my first time volunteering for this event and it is an honor and privilege to remember the people I served with, the people who I considered part of my family."

Mark is not only a volunteer for this event, but also lives at the Fisher House as he recovers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The boots he donated are covered with photos and stories of his fallen friends in remembrance of better days and time he cherishes when they were more than a just picture and a memory.

"This is a good way to cope," he said.

Although the front lawn of the Fisher House resembles more of a boot factory and less of a grassy knoll, Johnson says she still needs more donations to ensure every sacrifice is represented.

When asked by a volunteer for an exact number of boots currently on the Fisher House property, she replied: "too many."

The Fisher House Hero and Remembrance Run is slated for Saturday, Sept. 7 on Ford Island. For more information about Fisher House or the run, contact Theresa Johnson at (808) 433-1291 or visit www.fisherhouse.org.

The Tripler Fisher House is a "home away from home" for families and patients receiving medical care at Tripler Army Medical Center, located in Honolulu.  Families served are from the Pacific area, including Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and Guam. Active duty and retired persons from all services are helped in their time of need. The Tripler Fisher House is run with donations and non-appropriated Funds.