Spartyka 5k run honors 31 warriors who died serving their country

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by Joe Flanagan

WVEC.com

Posted on August 3, 2014 at 5:51 PM

Updated Sunday, Aug 3 at 6:27 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Two hundred plus runners and walkers wouldn't let a little gray sky and light rain dampen their committment to honor the 31 heroes who lost their lives August 6, 2011.

"You know, my heart is kind of sad right now just talking about it, but when I found out that John was onboard, I was saddened by what his family was feeling," said co-organizer Stephanie Godfrey.

The "John" that Stephanie Godfrey knew so well was 26 year-old K9 officer John Douangdara, who was honored at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex before the run when his family was presented with an "Honor and Remember" flag.  And K-9 officers paid tribute as well.  The family is from Iowa and said, in their words,  they are going to Arlington National Cemetery to visit John.

"He loved his country and he loved the country that gave his parents the opportunity for the American dream," said John's sister, Chan Follen. "And he felt that he needed to serve his country and give back for the opportunities that they gave my parents," she said.

There were other gold star families running in this event and they seemed to take it in stride.  At the outset, the big screen displayed all 31, including 31 year old Brian B. Bill, whose family was honored with a flag last year.

"I feel sad, but I feel inspired that I am running and I am carrying his flag and I am honoring him," said Brian's sister, Amy Bill Kutney. "So, races like this mean the world to me - to be able to come out here and support the other families while they get the flags," she continued.

Navy chief Jimmy Partyka started these Spartyka events.  He's been in the Navy for 20 years and wants families to know their loved ones who died serving their country will not be forgotten.

"It's really neat to see the families come together they get a chance to talk to each other and the grieving process and just let them know that everything they are going through, we remember," concluded Partyka.

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