Saturday for the first annual 5K Tribute Run, an event held to honor the sacrifices made by veterans and help raise funds for them and their families.'
The event was organized by the Joseph W. Tarrant Jr. American Legion Memorial Post 100.
More than 150 runners participated and there were more than 300 spectators. By day's end, nearly $10,000 had been raised.
Dan Gaita, the event coordinator, said the event more than met expectations.
“Our goal when we started was 100 runners and $10,000,” he said. “I wanted this to be the most successful fundraiser the Bethel Legion Post ever did. Naturally, when we took a final count and saw we had 160 runners, over $10,000 and only $50 in expenses, I knew we had accomplished our mission. It justified the time it took to pull it all together.”
He added as a result of the money raised, “we will hand over six $2,000 scholarship awards at Bethel High School on May 31. All six recipients are children or grandchildren of veterans. This is the largest amount ever given by the Bethel Legion Post.”
Gaita is himself a veteran. He was in the Marine Corps from 1992 to 1996 and served in Somalia during operation Restore/Continue Hope, as well as Operation Deny Flight in Bosnia and also Operation Restore Democracy, in Haiti.
For the 5K Tribute Gaita said he designed a route that passed by many locations in Bethel that have significance for veterans. He also made sure the route had challenging moments in it to “remind runners of the sacrifices our fallen war heroes endured in defense of freedom.”
“The result was a race start and finish at our Town Hall near the flag pole and the memorial monument,” he said. He added, the course “brought every runner by the Bethel Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in and around the Center Cemetery on South Street and of course, the races signature element, the grueling climb to the top of Hoyts Hill and up Governors Lane.”
The route also included a tribute to a recent Bethel War hero.
“Something that most runners were not aware of was the [importance of] the turn-around point located precisely at 14 Governors Lane,” Gaita said. “This was an emotional point on the course route because every runner was handed a POW/MIA flag. That location is also the childhood home of Bethel's war hero and Silver Star recipient, Navy Corpsman Todd Angell”
Angell received the Silver Star less than a month ago and was on hand for Saturday's event.
Another unique aspect of the run was that it was not timed and no awards were given out.
“I wanted this to be an event that separated those whom participate for a prize from those that really wanted to pay tribute to our war dead,” Gaita said. “I knew this could potentially hurt participation, but it turns out that every runner I talked to said they thought it was great that no official time was kept and that no awards were given. They got it. They understood the point of it all. That felt good.”
Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Korean War Vets American Legion, Help our Military Heroes, Team Red White Blue and the Danbury Harley Owners Group came out to the event to support the runners and pay tribute to veterans.
Gaita said the success of this year's event has encouraged him to start planning for next year and to expand the scope of the fundraising at the event.
“We are planning to continue raising funds for the Legion Scholarship Fund,” he said, “but we'll also incorporate these efforts to benefit several new organizations that are addressing the immediate needs of our returning war veterans. Specifically, Help Our Military Heroes, which outfits specially equipped motor vehicles for combat Vets with lost limbs and also Team Red White and Blue, which serves to aid veterans combating the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).”