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Air Force officer pays special tribute to 210 killed in action from BYU

2nd lt. runs to honor 210 killed in action from BYU

May. 25, 2014 - 04:38PM   |  
2nd Lt. Brett Anderson, a BYU graduate who ran one mile for every name on the BYU Memorial Wall, which lists students, graduates and professors who died in wars dating back to World War I.
2nd Lt. Brett Anderson, a BYU graduate who ran one mile for every name on the BYU Memorial Wall, which lists students, graduates and professors who died in wars dating back to World War I. (Bradley Slade / BYU)
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2nd Lt. Brett Anderson ran for the final name on the list, Army Capt. Scott Pace, at the April 19 Salt Lake City marathon. (Photos courtesy of 2nd Lt. Brett Anderson)
2nd Lt. Brett Anderson wrote the initials of 210 veterans on his arm or ankle as he ran a mile for each of them. (Photos courtesy of 2nd Lt. Brett Anderson)

Second Lt. Brett Anderson saved the final name on his list for the April 19 Salt Lake City marathon.

Five months earlier, the Brigham Young University senior began running 1 mile for each of the 210 students, graduates and professors who’d given their lives in service to their country since World War I.

Anderson was a freshman when he first saw their names on plaques in the university’s Memorial Hall. Photos and newspaper clippings nearby told the stories of short lives and tragic deaths at home, in Europe, Japan and Korea, in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan

For months, he set out on 4- and 6- and 8-mile runs, writing their initials on his arms or ankles and calling their names aloud as he counted off the miles.

In Salt Lake City one day before Easter, Anderson readied to run for only one. Army Capt. Scott Pace was the most recent BYU alumnus to give his life in combat. Anderson would dedicate the final mile of the marathon to him.

The son of a retired lieutenant colonel, Anderson never had to look far to see the sacrifices of America’s service members. Both his grandfathers were Air Force pilots who flew combat missions in Vietnam. His father, Roger “Andy” Anderson, was a B-52 pilot whose career took him around the world.

Anderson and his twin brother followed in their family’s footsteps. After earning a degree in engineering from BYU this spring, Anderson commissioned through the Air Force ROTC. He heads to Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, in July for pilot training, joining his twin, Kyle.

“It runs in my blood,” Anderson said.

At BYU, cadets gathered every Tuesday and Thursday morning for “memorial push-ups” performed in honor of a fallen service member. And there was Memorial Hall, where cadets held vigils on Memorial Day and the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Over time, I started thinking there were so many names of people I’d never heard of or thought about,” Anderson said. “I was in the exact same spot they were in. I started to put myself in their shoes. I wanted to do something for each person, so they were more than just a bunch of names on the wall.”

He wasn’t sure what at first.

“The answer suddenly struck me one day,” Anderson wrote just after Veteran’s Day. “I need to live; I need to live life to the fullest. I need to seize every bit of joy that they paid for. I need to love. I love life. I love love. And I love running. I’m going to do what I love and never stop. But while I do it, I’m going to thank them. I’m going to personally thank each individual on that wall for what they gave to me. I know I can never repay them, but I hope that in some small way, I can pay my respects. ... it will remind me that I’m alive — I’m free.”

Anderson had started running in high school to get in shape for the physical fitness test required for an ROTC scholarship. By the time he entered college, he’d learned to love this solitary pastime, how he could clear his head of daily troubles and reflect on what mattered most.

He created a blog detailing his plan: 210 miles for 210 veterans. He’d finish it before he commissioned into the Air Force.

“I’m not a writer, I’m not a professional blogger, and I’m not a philosopher,” Anderson wrote on his blog, “but I hope I can express in my own rudimentary way the power of this project. I hope that those who read this will be inspired in their own challenges. I hope that they will see the causes that are calling for them and rise up to answer.”

Legacies live on

He ran the first 4 miles for four men who died in World War II, a war that accounted for more than half of the names on the wall.

Stanley Aamold. Lane Abbot. Jay Adair. Dale Atwood.

Anderson wrote their initials on his arm. Back at home, he searched for snippets of their lives and deaths online — and was struck by the number of training accidents and equipment malfunctions in those early wars.

“They sacrificed a lot to make my experience a little bit safer and better,” he said.

Anderson began to relate to them — young men who’d walked the same campus and possessed the same dreams for the future.

There was Murr Skousen, a spunky BYU football player who at 5’7” earned the nickname Mighty Mite and turned out to be a classmate’s great-uncle. He survived one training scare, successfully landing a B-17 when the wheels wouldn’t lower. Skousen was so regarded by his crew they refused to bail out when he told them he planned to land the plane on its belly. He died in a training mission in China when an engine failed, circling the runway to spare a plane that was already there and crashing into a nearby hill.

Austin Halterman and Max Halverson survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines and died when their POW transport was mistakenly torpedoed by an American submarine in October 1944.

Second Lt. William “Billy” Huish, a B-17 navigator, was shot down after a bombing mission over Germany. He survived the crash and began a perilous journey through enemy territory with eight other U.S. airmen. In occupied Belgium, a Nazi collaborator told the enemy where to find the men and the resistance fighters helping them. The airmen were executed, their bodies dumped in a mass grave. The Belgium resistance fighters were sent to a concentration camp.

Anderson could not find stories for all the men. Some turned up no more than a name or gravestone.

“That’s just one more reason to run,” he wrote in January. “I hope that through this, their legacy can live on, their names can be spoken, and their sacrifices can be honored.”

Perhaps, Anderson continued, a descendant would happen across his blog “and come to learn that somebody, somewhere appreciates their loved one. If I can do that, it will have all been worth it.”

Four and a half months later, someone did.

“Thank you for running in memory of my grandfather, Austin Halterman,” wrote a woman named Libby. “He never met his own daughter, my mother, because she was born while he was at war. I think about him often and am grateful for the life he lived, no matter how short it was.”

And there was this from Halterman’s grandson, Kevin: “This is a great thing you are doing and we appreciate your thoughtfulness and example. While Austin died too soon, he left a legacy. He has one daughter, 6 grandkids, 30 great grandkids and 3 great-great grandchildren.”

The last mile

On the morning of April 19, Anderson prepared to run the Salt Lake City marathon for a soldier he’d never met. On his left ankle, just above his running shoe, he wrote in marker: Capt. SP.

Scott Pace attended BYU for a year after high school, went on his Mormon mission to Argentina for two years and graduated from West Point in 2005, Anderson learned. After graduation, he trained to fly the Kiowa Warrior OH-58 helicopter. Pace served two tours of duty in Iraq, where he was injured by shrapnel to his arm and hand. That was not the end of his time in combat. After a tour in Afghanistan in 2012, Pace planned to return to BYU, where he would work with the university’s ROTC program.

It was not to be. Pace and his copilot died when their helicopter was struck by Taliban fire on June 6, 2012. Two months later, his father, Patrick, described his son to a Los Angeles Times reporter: “He wasn’t like a caricature of a soldier. He was very tender. In his mind he was serving his country. He was doing what he knew he was supposed to do.”

Anderson wanted to save the last mile of the marathon for Pace.

“Marathons are super tough and it’s a huge endurance thing, but mostly it’s mental. There is so much mental determination to really push your body past the limits you have,” Anderson said.

Halfway through the race, he experienced a muscle cramp so painful he slowed to a limping walk. But as he neared the last mile, he thought more and more of Pace’s sacrifice — about the life that had stretched out before the soldier when it was suddenly eclipsed. Anderson’s gait turned into a sprint.

This is how he crossed the finish line.

Later, Anderson sat at his computer and wondered how the blog would end.

“What have I learned? Is there a central theme that I need to address? What do I want other people to take away from my experience?” Anderson wrote.

He thought of Easter and Spring and the hope and new life it represented.

“Every single one of the 210 men on my list gave their lives for something ... they believed in. Their ideals are what propelled them through the dark times. Some may say that idealism is useless,” Anderson wrote.

“They would point at the training accidents, the friendly fire, the butchery, the senseless deaths over a few feet of ground that compile this list and call each of them a waste and a tragedy. Well it is a tragedy. ... That’s exactly why we NEED idealism. We need ... something to cling on to when faced with the ugliness in the world. If we look past the bad in the world, we will find that history is filled with millions of shining moments when men and women have triumphed in spite of the worst conditions possible. If we look for the good and remember those shining moments, we will find the strength to triumph in suffering as well.

“ ... Look back on the examples of these men, those who gave all. If we forget about them, we lose our precious heritage, something that can be a real, tangible force in our lives. Remember them.”■

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