Runners to honor fallen New Carlisle soldier with flag

Krista Williams won’t let her little girls forget their daddy — not for one day, and especially not at bedtime.

Their daddy was Army Staff Sgt. Wesley “Wes” Williams of New Carlisle. He was killed in late 2012 in combat in Afghanistan when Faith was 1 and Krista was pregnant with Valerie.

“Our bedtime routine consists of saying goodnight to him, and we’ve got pictures of him all throughout the house,” Krista Williams said. “The girls still talk to him and about him like he’s still here.”

His family will see his memory publicly honored on Sept. 24 at the Grand Lake Marathon in Celina. Ken Bigham, a 59-year-old from Celina representing Flags 4 Fallen, will carry an American flag in honor of Wes Williams and present it to his family at the end of the race.

“It’s nice to know that our family hasn’t been forgotten,” Krista Williams said. “It’s a neat thing that they’re doing for families like mine.”

Krista Williams, her girls, Wes Williams’ parents Lars and Linda Williams and his 14-year-old sister Hannah Williams will all attend the race.

Flags 4 Fallen was started last year by Richard Clark of Portland, Ind. He carried a flag for a fallen soldier from Knoxville, Tenn., at the 2015 Grand Lake Marathon and for a paratrooper from Buffalo, N.Y., at a half-marathon in Noblesville, Ind., in May.

“That’s a lot of dedication to be able to run those races and the time it takes to do it,” Lars Williams said. “And then the extra emphasis on running for someone. I just think that’s really wonderful that they do that.”

Clark, who served as an Army paratrooper in the 1980s, is unable to run in this year’s marathon, so Bigham accepted the honor. The two met through Facebook, which is how most of this project has gained momentum.

Clark ran in the inaugural 2014 marathon that loops around Grand Lake St. Mary’s. He carried a flag rolled up like a baton and held together with rubber bands. As Clark neared the finish line he unrolled the flag and waved it.

As he had done in a few previous races, Clark handed the flag to a stranger and said, “Remember the troops.” Bigham was near the finish line and watched it happen.

Just after Clark unfurled the flag, freelance photographer Dan Shaner took his picture. Shaner later sent Clark the photo. That’s when Clark realized running with flags could have a bigger purpose.

“That’s how things grow,” Clark said. “Every foundation on Facebook started with one person’s crazy idea. And this one’s mine.”

Bigham couldn’t forget what he’d seen Clark do, so several months later he contacted Clark and offered his help. Clark asked Bigham to run for Williams. Bigham needed some time to consider if he was capable. He thought he’d run his last marathon in 2014.

“It’s a big challenge to train for this,” said Bigham, who isn’t a veteran. “I wanted to be sure I was in good enough physical shape to do this because I’ve never dropped out of a race in my life. Getting the flag across the finish line is mandatory in this one.”

Lars Williams understands that determination. He served in the Army from 1984 to 1987 and was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas when Wes Williams was born.

His father served in the Army during World War II and re-entered the military in the Air Force for the Korean and Vietnam wars. His dad’s father and step-father served in the Army in World War I. And numerous uncles and cousins on his mother’s side served from World War I all the way to Iraq.

“I just want everybody not to forget anyone, no matter what war, no matter the circumstances,” Lars Williams said. “They all need to be remembered and thought of. One of the things I’ve always heard is they’re only truly gone when their name’s forgotten.”

Clark also wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. Because of Facebook, he envisions a day when runners carry flags in races all over the map.

Flags 4 Fallen couldn’t exist without the cooperation of the races and the communities, he said. Most of all he credits families like the Williamses with trusting him to follow through on his promises.

“I’m not taking a risk,” Clark said. “They’re the ones taking a leap of faith, so they deserve a lot more credit than I do. They’re the ones putting their emotions on the line, not me.”

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