Volunteers and soldiers unloaded more than 7,000 boots Friday, tagging each one with a photo of a fallen service member and adorning each with an American flag for a display at Hedrick Stadium on Fort Bragg.
The display is part of the Fort Bragg Run, Honor, Remember 5K that will take place Saturday to honor service members who have died in combat since 9/11.
“Fort Bragg is honored to once again have the opportunity to host such a moving event,” said Col. Scott Pence, the garrison commander of Fort Bragg. “Though we honor and remember our fallen service members every day, it is always a very humbling experience to pay respect in such a visual manner.
“The sacrifices of fallen service members are cherished in the hearts of their survivors, and it is our responsibility to care for them and honor their service members' memories.”
Every volunteer on the field Friday had a story to tell. They were visibly moved as they worked quickly to measure and make sure the boots were a foot apart and to personalize each one with an American flag and a photo identifier. Patriotic music filled the stadium as they worked.
“I feel honored that I was chosen to be one of the volunteers to kneel and put the tags on the boots,’’ said Martha Brown, who moved to Fayetteville 30 years ago and now works for Army Community Services. “I’m taking the opportunity to pray for each family, letting them know that we still think about them after all of these years. Every photo, every name has a family.
Army wives Beth Dettenmayer and Julie Varayon worked in sync as they tagged each boot with a name tag. Dettenmayer has volunteered since the first memorial boot display.
“I know people on this field,’’ Dettenmayer said. “Dr. Mark Taylor was one of our doctors, some of my friend’s spouses are here, some of their children. They cannot be here so I am. As long as we speak their names, they are not forgotten.”
Among the teams of soldiers helping unpack the crates of boots and set them in their rows was 22-year-old Army Spc. Elijah Dillard from Texarkana, Texas, who has served at Fort Bragg for three years.
“Setting up all these boots reminds us all to never forget who served before us as we continue to honor them,’’ Dillard said. “It’s a constant reminder and I’m proud to have joined.”
Another active-duty soldier, 1st Lt. Erika McCoy, brought her 5-year-old daughter McKenzie Huewitt with her to volunteer. New to Fort Bragg, McCoy was looking for opportunities to do something for the community and give back.
“This is a great experience for my daughter to be out here helping,’’ said McCoy, who serves as a mental health medical provider on post. “Being out here and seeing all of the boots reminds us that our soldiers protect us and provide safety from outside forces.”
The memorial boot display was created to honor the legacy of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice since 9/11.
Charlotte Watson, program manager for Fort Bragg Survivor Outreach Services, said the display was created almost 10 years ago when her organization was trying to figure out how it could make an impact on surviving families as well as the community and area soldiers in May.
“Lorie Southerland, who is a Gold Star mother and was the former Fort Bragg Fisher House manager, came up with the suggestion of a display to honor our fallen service members and between the two of us, we thought of the boots and the tags to honor our fallen,’’ Watson said. “That’s how this started.”
Representing all branches of service, the boots are on display for the first time since 2019. The display had to temporarily stop due to COVID restrictions and is back after a two-year hiatus.
“Thousands of people will come through this weekend to honor our soldiers,” Watson said. “This is our first year back after two years and I encourage everyone to come out and see it. This is about honoring service for those who have defended our country and given the ultimate sacrifice.”
The boot display will be at Hedrick Stadium until Monday. The run on Saturday is free, and no registration is required. It is open to all military, DoD identification cardholders and their guests. The event will begin with opening remarks at 7:45 a.m. followed by the run at 8 a.m.
Hedrick Stadium is on the corner of Long Street and Reilly Road For more information, go to bragg.armymwr.com.
Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView TODAY. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com