WHEELING - As they crossed the finish line after completing the 5K portion of the Ogden Half Marathon, Greg Starkey, Aaron Smith and Jacob Whisler received a large ovation.
Though they finished near the back of the pack, it was what they carried that gained them the response. The trio, part of an Army unit based in New Martinsville and having served tours in the Middle East, carried an American flag, a POW/MIA flag and wore 45-pound weights to honor their fallen comrades.
"It gave me chills," Starkey said of the ovation. "But that isn't what this is about."
Greg Starkey, Aaron Smith and Jacob Whisler cross the finish line Saturday while carrying flags honoring their fellow soldiers. -- J.W. Johnson Jr.
Smith said the group participated and carried the items as a sign of support, solidarity and remembrance for those who could not be there Saturday. The group strapped 45-pound weights to their back to mimic the weight of packs carried by soldiers.
"There are enough guys overseas that can't be here, we're just trying to show them our support," Smith said.
Others paid tribute to fallen friends and comrades in other ways. For Mark Whitehouse of Wheeling, who ran the half marathon, Saturday's run was for "Joey C.," a member of his unit who died of cancer.
Whitehouse, who serves with the National Guard, was getting ready to deploy to Kosovo when Joey was diagnosed with cancer and was unable to make the trip. He died a short time later, though Whitehouse said he is not forgotten by the unit.
"We always talk about him, and this is a great way to remember him," he said.
Whitehouse wore a shirt in memory of Joey as he participated in his first half marathon. He said the race was a perfect way to remember his friend.
"With his physical fitness and his drive to finish things, this is perfect," he said.
Other soldiers ran to benefit the Augusta Levy Learning Center.
Dusty Jones and six of his fellow National Guardsmen ran the race in connection with Augusta Levy, a center for autism education that will receive proceeds from this year's race. Jones, who has a daughter taking advantage of the center's educational offerings, said he wanted to do whatever he could to support the center.
After signing up for the race himself, he sent emails to members of his unit asking them to participate as well.
"These were the only guys dumb enough to sign up for a half marathon," Jones joked with the group, who shared laughs before the start of the race.
The group, which included Mark Lehman, Robert Luther, William Tomblin, Jason Smith and Jones, wore blue shirts with an American flag and emblazoned with words supporting autism research and education as they ran the race, what they described as "a light workout."
"This a great cause and we're just glad to help out," Lehman said.