Fund-raiser to honor fallen military personnel

By Jason A. Smith


A group of former military servicemen are organizing a fund-raiser for a pair of charities, with the hope that the event will generate awareness of, and honor, the victims of a past terrorist act.

Marine Corps League Detachment No. 1339 will host the Beirut Memorial 5K run Oct. 23, on Lake Dow Road in McDonough. The cost to participate is $15 for people, ages 15 and up, if received by Oct. 16, or $20 afterward. Children, ages 14 and under, can register for $10 before Oct. 16, or $15 thereafter.

The Beirut Memorial 5K run is named for Marines who lost their lives in a terrorist attack in Beirut, Lebanon, on Oct. 23, 1983, according to the league's Junior Vice Commandant, Jeff Owen. "We selected that day to remember the Marines that passed in that attack, to honor them," said Owen, 43, a sergeant with the Henry County Police Department. "The Marines that were there were part of an international peace-keeping mission. That doesn't get the attention that a war would get. Me, personally, I'll never forget it."

A total of 241 service members -- including 220 Marines, 18 Navy personnel and three Army soldiers -- died in the attack, according to Owen.

The police sergeant, who served in the U.S. Marines from 1985-89, said the inaugural run is designed to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project, and the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Foundation.

"The Wounded Warrior Project helps out any service member that's wounded ... transition from the service and their disability, to help them to go on," said Owen. "Toys for Tots is an ongoing, nationwide program with [the] Marine Corps Reserve. They raise money and [collect] toys, to be distributed to kids that are in need, that might not receive toys on Christmas Eve. A portion of the proceeds are going to stay right here in Henry County, with our endeavors to send care packages to Marines that are deployed and ... stationed here in the States."

Owen said about 60 runners have pre-registered to participate in the fund-raiser. He anticipates more runners will sign up to support the effort. "From the response I've gotten back from friends and so forth, I'm expecting around 100 runners, which isn't bad for a first-time event," he said. "I'm taking on a big task by raising money for ... different organizations at the same time, but we think the organizations we're trying to donate to are worth the effort."

Russ Vermillion, who served on active duty for the Marines from 1968-70, is an Adjutant Paymaster for Detachment No. 1339. He said the fund-raiser is important because it reminds the public to remember fallen military personnel.

"There are so many people that probably don't know, or don't remember, the bombing," said Vermillion, 62. "We think it's important to remind the veterans from that time, and certainly the Marines and other service personnel that were in Beirut at the time, that we have not forgotten them. This is our way of paying tribute to our brothers and sisters, that paid the ultimate price in that event."

Sam Lites, who serves as a Judge Advocate for the league detachment, and was a sergeant in the Marines from 1974 to 78, said he is hopeful the memorial 5K will help to educate the public, regarding the Marine Corps League. "Yes, we are all former Marines, and it's about camaraderie, but we do a lot for the community," said Lites, 53.

To register online, visit www.active.com, and type "Beirut Memorial 5K" in the search box on the web site. For more information, e-mail Jeff Owen at: owen1339@bellsouth.net.