July 4, 2013 is the day our family lost Private First Class Errol Millard affectionately known as Elijah. Elijah was Killed In Action while on tour in Afghanistan. There aren’t enough words to express the sorrow and pain we feel as a family especially his parents, siblings, grandparents and great grandmother. His aunts, uncles, cousins and friends are heartbroken too. You never expect to get the call that will forever change your family and your days. I think about Elijah every day and today I ran my first official 10K in honor of him.
5 things that touched me before, during and after the 4th of July Peachtree Road Race…
1. Pinning Elijah’s Prayer Card
I pinned Elijah’s prayer card to my singlet the night before the race. I cried. As much as I don’t want it to be, this is real! It is painful and it is real. His prayer card had to be just right. Right above my heart, straight and secure.
2. The People, Prayers and Words
People were curious and asked who he was. Most people did not realize what I had pinned to my singlet was the prayer card from Elijah’s funeral. Most asked if he was currently on duty overseas. After a brief explanation, so many people said a prayer, asked about his mom and offered prayers for our family. It was overwhelming.
3. The Moments of Walking
This race was not about time for me. I fully expected to do a lot of walking as my training was derailed for the last 4 weeks plus I wanted to take it all in. I made sure to stop and shake the hand of every soldier I saw. And there were many. I shook the hands of active duty soldiers. I shook the hands of veterans cheering the runners on. I shook the hands of veterans who were wheel chair bound. These moments of walking and stopping made the race so much more than a race. And then there were the moments of walking because I could not catch my breath. Not from running but from the emotions and tears stuck in my throat.
4. Two Veterans and The True Meaning of 4th of July
First there was the veteran who stood up to hug me. I didn’t ask his age but he was sitting in a wheel chair and his wife was by his side and they were well into their upper 80’s or more. I went over to shake his hand. He touched Elijah’s prayer card and asked “When and where?” I answered and he held on to his chair and stood right up. He steadied himself and then gave me a big hug. I thanked him and wiped the tears away. He touched me cheek and sent me on my way.
And then there was the soldier who sat next to me on the train ride home. He looked at Elijah’s prayer card and then looked away. He turned back, looked again and said “Army or Marine?” I said “Army.” He said “Is he on tour now?” I said, “He was killed in action 1 year ago today.” He said “Afghanistan?” I said, “Yes.” He turned away. I asked him if he was a soldier and he responded “Yes, Retired Marine.” I thanked him for his service. As he was about to exit the train he turned to me and said, “I sat here and prayed for your family and I will continue to do so. I’m glad you ran today. That was honorable of you. God bless.” And then he left. I could tell he was moved and even close to tears. And I could tell he too had seen, heard and felt so many unimaginable things, like so many of his fellow soldiers while at war. I prayed for him too!
5. The Finish Line
I called Elijah’s mom just as I was crossing the finish. She did not answer, but I left her a message telling her I loved her, I was done and I love Elijah. I thanked God, said a prayer for Elijah. I kissed his prayer card, made a sign of the cross and held my hands up in thanksgiving. Crossing the finish with so many other runners who had tears in their eyes, shouting words of victory and running to the hands of supporters made me wonder what was their story? We all have a story.
Elijah, you will forever be our family hero. Continue to rest in paradise. You gave the ultimate sacrifice and you have already been rewarded. We love you and we cherish your memory and your legacy.
To all current and retired soldiers, thank you and your families for serving and keeping us safe. Freedom is not free and you pay the price for our freedom every day. To all of you, who have seen, endured and have never returned from war… We honor you today and always. Zoe and I said special prayer for you all tonight.