The 2020 Drive was a different mission compared to years before! I always search for the best ways to honor these men each year. I have driven across the United States 3 times to the Golden Gate Bridge – planting an American Flag in the middle of it, I deployed to Chattanooga for 12 days feeding the homeless, and so for 2020 I upped the challenge! I decided to run the American Flag on my back for over 5 miles from the shooting site to Veteran’s Bridge in Chattanooga!
The purpose of these acts is to honor the Fallen 5’s sacrifice, by living an honorable life and performing acts to honor them. My mission is to help others remember them, and to make new memories including these men. Before the attack, we would not have known their names. Now, there are several static memorials, many support groups, and events centered around these men. I am not the only one and that makes me very glad. Chattanooga is a community of GREAT Americans, and that will be our legacy.
As a war veteran myself I know what it means to serve and sacrifice! I know the pains of military life and war. I know the pains of loss, and of victory. I have battles every day – I battle my military past, fight daily for a better tomorrow, and dream of a future for my sons to live peacefully. Without people like those in our military and public services, our country would not be “America”.
For 2020 we had a “situation” in which traveling and large groups were not publicly endorsed by governing organizations – so I had to play by the rules…sort of. Despite mandates, I thought of an awesome way to honor these men! RUN 5 MILES WITH THE FLAG! I chose to start at the memorial site in the Tennessee Riverpark and finish by running across Veteran’s Bridge. I made the mission without even looking at how far it was! And after looking, it was a little over 5 miles!
Since I finalized the 2020 plans with less than 18 hours before the run at 10:30 AM the next day, I had to quickly get some news coverage! I called news channel 3, 9, and 12! They all showed up and did a wonderful job covering the action! The Times Free Press must have been busy…
Additionally, as a 35 year old man I was no longer the “in-shape runner” I was. In fact, I never ran 5 miles continuously in my life and was now at my fattest too! Either way, I was not going to let that stop me. I have a Marine mentality of “whatever it takes” or “pain is weakness leaving the body”.
July 16th, 2020 was hot! Like 95 degrees and full sun, southern summer hot! Additionally, I was running on blacktop near noon wearing a dark cotton shirt, a hat, and flag on my back with heavy non-running shoes. I already set my mind to do it, and now all the eyes were on me. I did the news camera thing before the drive. I was overcome by emotion as I always am beginning the drive. I got water on the flag from the Tennessee River to start, and then I began to run!
Running was hard! I was out of shape and it was hot! I did however just keep on running. The Blazer of Glory was following me for support with my 1 week old son! They were hot too! Thank God for the cooler of cold water because I was experiencing some heat exhaustion, but I never stopped running. The spirit and energy from the passing cars was my fuel! I got so many honks from cars/trucks and sirens from police. About ¾ of the way I thought I was going to die, then I accepted it and kept running. About a mile from the end, we finally got some support from the Chattanooga Police Department when Officer Wolf provided some much-needed safety lights as he followed us across the bridge.
As I crossed Veteran’s Bridge I slapped the sign for each man and yelled their names! I was so tired and so relieved to finish the 2020 mission! It was bitter sweet – as I am usually on the road for a grueling 2 to 3 weeks. I was happy to be finished with the run, but also sad it was over so quickly. I had never been so hot or tired in my life! As every year before, I needed to fold the flag at the end and I cannot do it alone. Officer Wolf helped me and the flag is still folded on my dash.
The best part of the 2020 drive was the energy in the community as I ran. I previous years, much of my mission is across the United States. This year it was in Chattanooga and we made an important impact. Thank you to all of my supporters and sponsors. Stay tuned for 2021!
Joshua D. Kapellusch