Oklahoma soldiers run OKC memorial marathon in Sinai Desert

Thursday, April 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Glenn Sheppard rushed downtown when he felt the explosion and saw the plume of smoke rising above the federal building.

He took off toward the chaos after parking his car a few blocks away, and soon he was pulling out bloodied bodies and giving survivors first aid.

Memories of that day eight years ago aren't quick to fade, partly because he won't let them. Even from the Sinai Peninsula, where Sgt. 1st Class Sheppard is on a six-month peacekeeping mission with the Oklahoma Army National Guard, he thinks of the 168 people killed in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

He and 109 fellow reservists and soldiers from the United States and other countries trekked a 26.2-mile route across the Egyptian desert as part of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

Their times _ sent in from 6,835 miles away _ will be counted with the results of Sunday's race in downtown Oklahoma City.

``Life is like a race _ you keep running until you get to the end, which is the victory lane,'' Sheppard said Wednesday from South Camp in Sinai, Egypt. ``These people didn't get a chance to finish the race so I'll run it for them.''

Sheppard, of Del City, ran the last leg of a five-person relay in the desert marathon. Members of his military police platoon met him on the last quarter-mile so they could cross the finish line together.

The platoon commander had no trouble getting his men to sign up for the race; he told them how he spent hours sorting through the rubble and 18 days providing security at a morgue for bombing victims.

``I don't want to see it go to waste,'' he said. ``What we're doing here is sort of like making sure things like that don't take place at home.''

Commanders at the Sinai's South and North camps, where soldiers monitor checkpoints to keep peace between Egypt and Israel, were quick to approve the desert marathon.

Flyers about the race and the bombing were posted across both camps. Runners included teams of active duty Army soldiers, as well as soldiers from Hungary and Italy, said Staff Sgt. Darren Heusel.

``The word just kind of spread like wildfire,'' he said.

The morning of the race, held Saturday on the eighth anniversary of the blast, Chaplain Maj. Ernest Harrison of Oklahoma City prayed for the bombing victims. Overcast skies kept temperatures in the 70s as runners began the course in a barren valley of the mountainous peninsula.

In Oklahoma City, the third-annual race will begin with a sunrise ceremony under an elm tree that survived the blast. Then there will be a report about the desert marathon.

``It's one of the most amazing things in marathon history,'' said Jeff Kidder, marathon spokesman. ``Those people are over there in a war thinking about the Oklahoma City National Memorial.''

About 8,000 runners are expected to run the course in Oklahoma City, which passes 168 banners _ one for each bombing victim. Relatives and friends wearing T-shirts with their loved ones' photographs line the route.

A Northwestern University graduate student studying collective memory plans to interview participants about why they mark a national tragedy by running a marathon. The run perpetuates the memory of the bombing, said student Aaron Beim.

``The memorials are important, but are sort of meaningless until people make sense of it,'' he said.

Sheppard ran in the memorial marathon its first two years and didn't want to miss out this year, even if he had to organize his own race. He found time to train hard, finishing his 5.2-mile leg in 48 minutes and recording a team time of 4 hours, 33 minutes.

An Italian team won with a time of three hours, six minutes.

Sheppard, who hopes to return home to his wife and daughter in July, said it would have been odd not to mark the bombing anniversary.

``It helps bring peace to me,'' he said. ``I just keep remembering.''