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Running with Joe

Posted 3/21/2014   Updated 3/21/2014 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Timothy Clark
Air Force Life Cycle Management Center

3/21/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala.  -- It was March in Montgomery, and the temperature was 52 degrees, according to my car's thermometer. I was on my way to Gunter to get in my early morning run. Some people like to run when it is warmer, but 52 degrees is perfect for me.

I have been running for about five years. After years of playing basketball or lifting weights, the pounding on my knees and heavy lifting have caused me some shoulder and neck issues. Running became my new passion, and it has helped me to keep my weight down, which is difficult.

It was just after 5 a.m., and because of daylight savings time, it was dark except for the street lights and the occasional passing car. I ran around the Gunter Bowl track and then off base to run the base perimeter. The street lights created shadows of me, and from time to time, it startled me.

When I turned toward the east gate, I saw a shadow. It wasn't mine.

I heard no footstep, which was really odd because this person was just about to pass me. I turned to look, and the image surprised me. It was a young man with a short haircut. He looked like a noncommissioned officer. I am not sure how I knew the difference between an officer and NCO, but it's something learned from years of observation.

I said, "Good morning," and he returned the greeting.

"Mind if I run with you, Sarge," he said. I replied, "Sure," but deep down I was thinking that he is 25 years younger than me and there is no way I will be able to keep up. He wore a plain white cotton T-shirt, white tennis shoes and simple shorts. There were no brand names, and I could tell that his tennis shoes were not running shoes.

"My name is Joseph R. Canon, but you can call me Joe. I work in supply," he said. "I have been running this route for years."

The surprise in my face could not be hidden. I was also in supply at Gunter for 20 years, and never saw him before.

As we ran together, I started noticing changes in my normal route. The buildings were freshly painted and everything looked newer. My breath was not winded like it was a mile ago. For some reason I felt younger. We were coming to my turn-around place where the fence separates the base from the local community, but there was no fence. Instead, there was just concrete, and we kept running.

Where were all the houses? Where was the post office? Where was the fence?

Suddenly, I saw an airfield with aircraft.

"Are those the fixed-gear Vultee BT-13 and BT-15 Valiant?" I thought. I had seen them in books and at the occasional air show but never this close. Questions buzzed through my mind, but we ran on. Joe and I talked like we were old friends. I noticed something in the way he talked. He talked about going to the movies and the clinic on base, both of which had long since been demolished, like it was yesterday.

Finally, I could no longer hold the questions in my mind.

"Joe, what is going on?" I said.

"This base has a history to it," he said. "It is real. You can feel it when you are running, and the shadows are of the men and women of long ago training beside you, each with a belief that freedom still matters. You run with those men and women in the morning runs, don't you?"

Without saying anything, he knew I understood. He said that is why he picked me for his run today.

We were just about back to the spot where I first saw him. It was starting to get light outside, and I was exhausted from the longer run.

I turned and Joe was no longer there. The buildings looked worn again from years of weather and time. I made the turn toward the gym and everything was as it was when I left.

At work, Joe was still on my mind. I searched his name on the Internet, and what I found surprised me. Joe was a young supply NCO who was killed in a training accident in August 1940. The picture was of the same young man who ran with me. His superiors raved about his work ethic and fitness.

Now, whenever I get tired on a run, I know I'm not alone. I am running with the men and women who have run before me. They keep me strong and motivated to finish the extra mile.

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