At the start, it was one foot in front of the other — a way to get through days without end, nights dark with loneliness. For the young military widow, her constant companion on a trail of tears was a broken heart wet with grief.
Lisa Hallett’s world was shattered on Aug. 25, 2009, when a roadside bomb exploded thousands of miles away in Afghanistan.
It was news no military wife ever wants to hear.
“Excuse me,” the colonel had said quietly, the tap on her shoulder interrupting Lisa’s carefree moment at the U.S. Army’s Point of Contact dinner, her first since the baby had been born. “I need to talk with you,” his words benign.
Quickly, Lisa rose from the table to step away for a side conversation. Only when he spoke again did a whisper of worry add its voice to the social gathering.
“You’ll need to bring your things, Lisa,” the officer in dress uniform told her, his hand reaching to help.
When the children and I do our Saturday morning with their daddy’s name on the back, they know they’re surrounded by a community that knows him and understands.
Lisa Hallett, war widow and CEO of the nonprofit “wear blue: run to remember.”
Gathering her two-week old daughter, diaper bag and infant seat, the slender blonde matched his steps as they walked.
“Tell me John is OK!” Lisa said, her fear insistent in the evening air, the face of the colonel unreadable in the fading light.
When the conference room doors swung open, she found her answer in the eyes of two men in official green Army attire, a white sheet of paper in their hands.
“We believe Captain John Hallett was killed when his Stryker was ... ” their words lost in the pounding of Lisa’s heart.
“It was so surreal,” Lisa said in 2013, remembering the emotional moment. “This couldn’t be my story. John had a baby he’d never met.”
But it was real even though Lisa clung to the word “believe,” hoping the report of her husband’s death could be a mistake. A next day telephone call came from the military.
“General Mattis called me, and I reminded him the Army only believed that John had been killed,” Lisa said, remembering vividly the scene as she sat weeping on the stairway near a collage of John’s pictures, 3-year-old Jackson and younger Bryce at her side. “He said, ‘Yes, but we do know. I’m sorry, Lisa.’ ”
It was final. Her forever friend, husband and father of their three small children was gone.
“When John died, I lost the bookends of my life,” Lisa said, a catch in her voice, recalling his phone calls, his kiss when he came through the door, his welcome hugs upon return from deployment. “Every day was now the same, it all blurred together.”
Until she began to run one Saturday ...
Donning John’s royal blue physical training shirt, she began to jog, often with her friend Erin O’Connor by her side; a friend who promised to help Lisa “run” through her journey of grief.
Soon other wives joined the widow for the early morning runs.
Little did the group know then, but before the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Ft. Lewis finished its yearlong deployment, 41 soldiers would be lost in Operation Enduring Freedom in Southern Afghanistan. Twenty-three of those casualties would be from John’s 1-17 Infantry Battalion.
Those fallen heroes were more than just a statistic to the “wear blue: run to remember” runners who faithfully gathered at the flagpole each Saturday morning in a sea of blue attire. Signature shirts display the names of the 41 soldiers.
“We always start with the Circle of Remembrance and prayer,” Lisa said as she reflected on the living memorial, one that continues to this day. “Each person receives a slip of paper with the name of a fallen hero in the Global War on Terror, or they call out the name of their loved one.”
Then the running begins on a family friendly three-mile course at the army base, stretching on to a 10-mile and 18-mile path marked by volunteers holding a U.S. flag, the name of a soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice displayed on each one.
This living memorial has been met with open hearts and dedicated footsteps.
The Saturday scene now repeats across the nation and overseas at other military bases and locations — a vision “wear blue: run to remember” CEO Lisa and COO Erin share together for the nonprofit and all-volunteer organization, one that helps thousands heal from, and work through the more challenging aspects of military life during a time of war.
“It’s grown so much,” Lisa said, awed by the countless community and military people who come together in remembrance, some sharing stories about their lost loved one.
Memories that “wear blue: run to remember” wants to live on.
Through Saturday runs and special race events, “this group runs to honor all military members killed in combat, and it has evolved into a powerful network of active duty and retired service members, military families, Wounded Warriors, Gold Star families and community members,” the “wear blue: run to remember” website said.
“When the children and I do our Saturday morning with their daddy’s name on the back, they know they’re surrounded by a community that knows him and understands,” Lisa said, reflecting on the support it has offered.
And along the marked paths across America and beyond, many footsteps — and sometimes tears — mingle as runners remember proudly the men and women who lived, loved and served their country.
On the back of the deep blue signature shirts are 41 fallen heroes, the scripture verse John 15:13 and an extra-large footprint filled with white stars. For Lisa and her children who have step by step mourned and remembered CPT John Hallett, his memory will forever be their huge heart-print.