Naval Academy Grads Salute Fallen Classmates at Marine Marathon
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2007 Nearly 100 U.S. Naval Academy graduates from the class of 1995 are dedicating their participation in the Oct. 28 Marine Corps Marathon to the memory of six fallen comrades.
Left to right: Dr. Mike McClung and his wife, Dr. Re McClung, and Suzanne Kristensen, with her husband, retired Navy Rear Adm. Edward Kristensen, discuss their departed children, Marine Maj. Megan M. McClung and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen at the “Run to Honor” reception in Washington, D.C., Oct. 25, 2007. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
About 10 percent of the 900-member graduating class will participate in the 32nd running of the 26-mile marathon and the separate 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) run, said Jeff Webb, a former Navy special warfare operations officer who helped to organize the event.
“A group of us came together looking for a way to honor these six classmates that we’ve lost,” Webb explained at a special reception honoring the departed classmates held here yesterday.
The Marine Corps Marathon “was a good fit, because we have a lot of connections to the marathon with our class,” said Webb, who now is a banker in Philadelphia. This year’s marathon, he noted, will be the fourth one he has participated in.
Class of ’95 comrades saluted in the “Run to Honor” died between 1998 and 2007, Webb said, adding that they constitute the highest operations-related loss of any Naval Academy class since the Vietnam War. The fallen are:
-- Marine Maj. Douglas A. Zembiec, 35, who was killed in action on May 11, 2007, while fighting insurgents in Baghdad. He is renowned as the “Lion of Fallujah” for his actions during combat operations against terrorists during the Battle of Fallujah in 2004.
-- Marine Maj. Megan M. McClung, 34, who died in Anbar province, Iraq, on Dec. 6, 2006. She was posted in Iraq as a public affairs officer working with embedded reporters. McClung died when the vehicle she was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb. McClung is the most-senior Marine woman to be killed in Iraq to date. About a month before her death, McClung organized and participated in an Iraq-based version of the annual Marine Corps Marathon.
-- Navy Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen, 33, a special warfare operations officer, who was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005. Kristensen was on a mission to rescue other SEALs when the MH-47 Chinook helicopter he was riding in was shot down by insurgents in Kunar province. He was among the 16 Navy and Army members aboard who died.
-- Navy Lt. Richard S. Pugh, 31, an F-14 Tomcat fighter pilot, who died in the line of duty on Aug. 10, 2001, when his aircraft crashed into the Bay of Bengal during a night-training mission from the carrier USS Constellation.
-- Navy Lt. Bruce J. Donald, 27, an F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilot, who died in the line of duty on Sept. 29, 2000, when his aircraft crashed into the Persian Gulf shortly after takeoff from the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
-- Lt. j.g. Brendan J. Duffy, 27, who was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 8, 1998, during a night-landing training mission on board the USS Enterprise. The carrier was en route to the Middle East to participate in Operation Desert Fox. Between Dec. 16 and 19, 1998, U.S. aircraft-dropped bombs and ship-launched missiles struck targets in Iraq in a military effort to deter then-dictator Saddam Hussein.
“I would say I knew Major Zembiec the best” when he attended the Naval Academy, Webb recalled. “We just wanted to find a more celebratory atmosphere to celebrate their lives, their leadership and their legacy.”
Other servicemembers, families and friends will bring the total number of “Run to Honor” participants to about 175 people, entered in the marathon or the 10-kilometer event, Webb said.
Financial services company United Services Automobile Association, known as USAA, sponsored the reception for the Run to Honor participants, said John Hancock, the firm’s military communications manager. USAA is a supporter of the Defense Department’s “America Supports You” public-outreach program that connects citizens, businesses and other organizations with ways to support servicemembers and their families.
Hosting the Run to Honor reception is way to recognize the sacrifices made by America’s servicemen and women, Hancock explained. “People need to remain aware of what our servicemembers are going through,” he said.
Webb said his departed classmates would be cheered by the determination evidenced by military members engaged in the global war on terrorism. Today’s good military recruiting and retention numbers, he pointed out, constitute “a testament to the commitment and the sense of duty that our servicemembers have.”
Dr. Mike McClung and his wife, Dr. Re McClung, and retired Navy Rear Adm. Edward Kristensen and his wife, Suzanne Kristensen, were among the guests who attended yesterday’s Run to Honor reception. McClung recalled that his daughter, Megan, “was really involved in being a Marine,” adding that “she died doing the job she wanted to do.”
“She made a great sacrifice, and we lost a wonderful child,” he continued. “We’re very honored by what the class of ’95 is doing for her.”
Suzanne Kristensen said she “couldn’t be more pleased or thrilled” about how Erik’s classmates are honoring his sacrifice and memory.
“Erik left us with wonderful friends,” she emphasized.
Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Giovanna Kostrubala, another member of the class of ’95, said she was a personal friend of Erik Kristensen and Megan McClung during their days at the academy.
“Megan’s mom has her laugh and mannerisms,” Kostrubala observed at the reception. “That’s one of my favorite things about what’s going on this weekend, because I get to meet the parents of all of the children.”
Col. David Lapan, the Marine Corps’ deputy director of public affairs, saluted Webb and the others for their devotion to the memory of their fallen classmates.
“It’s great any time that people come together and stop and pay tribute to those who have given their lives in service to the country,” Lapan said.
Echoing Lapan’s sentiments, Mike McClung noted that it is important for Americans to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices made by the men and women in the armed forces.
“They’re out protecting us, and we need to support them,” he emphasized.