Slain Marine Lance Cpl. Steve Sutton’s father, Gene Sutton, left, is consoled by friend Lance Cpl. Mike Perrone during the fallen Marine’s monument unveiling cememony Saturday in Leesburg. The monument was unveiled before the 911 Heroes Run that was conducted in spite of rainy weather.
LEESBURG, Ga. — More than 250 runners as well as spectators were spared the rain at the opening ceremonies of Lee County’s 911 Heroes Run on Saturday. The purpose of the event was to honor fallen military service personnel, specifically Leesburg native, Lance Cpl. Steven Sutton, who was killed last year in Afghanistan.
Two runs were planned for Saturday: a 9.11-kilometer, or 5.66-mile, run and a shorter .911-K “fun run.” The event was held in association with the Travis Manion Foundation, established to assist military veterans and the families of fallen heroes.
“Events like these give us a rallying point to honor our service members, our firefighters, our EMS personnel,” said James Brobyn, executive director of Travis Manion. “There’s not enough we can do together to emulate their lives. We should be bringing those values into the local communities — inspiring young people to go out and serve their communities.”
State Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, said he did not know Steve Sutton, but he was familiar with “words like freedom and liberty.”
“If we can do one thing for Steve Sutton,” Rynders said, “I think he’d want to take those kinds of precious words and spread them to other Americans who sometimes forget just how important they really are.”
Col. Don Davis, commanding officer of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, called Sutton a “gentle giant” who made the ultimate sacrifice for the benefit of others.
“He put off the living of his own life so that others could enjoy theirs, and in the end he gave what was left. This is the epitome of what it means to be a hero. This good old boy followed the sounds of the guns. He went without being asked or being expected to.”
A memorial to Sutton was unveiled in front of the Lee County Courthouse, where the ceremony was held. The metal monument depicts a pair of worn soldier’s boots at the base of an upright service rifle. Atop the rifle rested a combat helmet.
The longer started at the County Court House and looped past the high school and other schools including Lee Elementary, the county’s Ninth Grade Academy, Kinchafoonee Primary, Twin Oaks Elementary and Lee Middle School before ending back at the courthouse. Overall male winner in the .911 kilometer race was Greg Frich, with Vanessa Pina, taking the top spot in the women’s category. Overall winners for the 9.11-K run were Hank Campbell and Kaitlyn Winter. The 911 Heroes Run was organized by the YMCA Lee County Branch, the Lee County Chamber of Commerce and the Leesburg and Lee County governments, according to Judy Powell with the organization committee.
In addition to the formal speakers, two Marines who were introduced as having served in Sutton’s squad attended the memorial ceremony.
“I would tell you Steve Sutton was my friend, but that would be undercutting him a bit,” one of the Marines said. “Steve Sutton was my brother. You can get in a fight with your friend and break the friendship and have hard feelings. But there’s not a fight you can get into with your brother where you can just leave him. You love your brother.”