By Mike Fletcher
Tribune staff writer
More than 100 men, women and children braved the brisk morning air Saturday to say thanks to a true hero, Army Pfc. David Neil Simmons.
A 2005 Northwestern High School graduate, Simmons was one of two soldiers killed April 8, 2007, when their military vehicle came under attack, taking on small-arms fire and was hit by an improvised explosive device. He had been in Kuwait for three weeks before being sent to Baghdad on April 1.
“Quarterbacks and movie stars are not heroes. It’s men like Neil who are the true heroes,” Paul Wyman said in his opening prayer to start the Neil Simmons 5K run/walk Saturday at the Ivy Tech
Kokomo Event Center.
“This is one of the greatest honors — to be able to run on behalf of Neil,” said Wyman, a friend of Simmons’ family.
“I’m not sure if I’ll try to run up front or take my time and reflect on his service to the military,” Wyman said before the race. “I think I’ll just reflect on Neil.”
Fresh out of basic training in Fort Benning, in Georgia, C.J. Redman, Simmon’s cousin, laced up his shoes to pay tribute to his friend.
“I just wanted to show my respect for him,” he said.
Calvin Pohl, a longtime friend of Simmons, said he wouldn’t miss the run for anything.
“Neil was my best friend in high school,” he said. “Celebrating Neil and the other guys serving ... It’s definitely emotional. They’re good emotions today. This is one of those things you just can’t miss.”
Along with honoring Simmons’ sacrifice, the event served as the kickoff for Military Appreciation Days, a week full of activities and discounts for all veterans.
This year, a total of 60 businesses at 65 different sites are offering discounts to veterans through Nov. 12
The opening ceremony kicked off at 8 a.m. with runners and walkers gearing up for a cold jog down East North Street to Touby Pike to Morgan Street and back to the event center.
“We had 110 sign up and 20 more came this morning to sign up,” said Teri Rose, Simmons’ mother.
“This a true testament to what Kokomo does for its community and its veterans,” she said.
Just as runners were set to begin, the sound of a Vietnam-era Huey 369 helicopter caught everyone’s attention.
The Huey, restored by Marine veteran John Walker, flew over the crowd for several minutes before landing in a cordoned off area on the south side of the parking lot.
Walker founded the American Huey 369 Organization and restored the 369 and an 803 Warrior. The aircraft are displayed at community events to honor veterans.
“This is what we do,” Walker said as he climbed out of the Huey. “We do this for all the veterans who serve our country.”
Membership flights were available at a cost of $100, with half of the funds going to construct a home for Army Spc. Anthony Walton, who was injured in Afghanistan.
Shannon Reinagle, a friend of Teri Rose, organized the event as a way to honor Neil and all veterans.
“I always wanted to put on a run,” said Reinagle, who works at the Salvation Army and is a member of the Military Foundation.
“We could not be more excited.”