American Legion Post 2 will host the twelfth Annual Mountain Man Memorial March on April 27 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to honor fallen service members’ sacrifice. The event’s hosts encourage active service members, veterans, service members’ friends and family, and junior ROTC units to participate in half and full marathon events alongside the active service members from over 45 units throughout the Southeast.
Dave Balentine, a local resident of Gatlinburg and annual marathon participant, advocates participation “in any form because it is just a great day to be a part of. I have met a lot of great people and have had so many conversations that I will always remember. This event makes me proud to be from Gatlinburg.” The event offers a 5K, half marathon, and full marathon option, but there are many other ways to get involved. Volunteers can pass out water to runners, direct traffic and parking, and provide encouragement along the race.
This event first began in 2007 when 40 members of the University of Tennessee’s Army ROTC Rocky Top Battalion marched 26.2 miles in full gear to honor the fallen 1st Lieutenant, Frank B. Walkup, IV, who was a dear friend and dedicated serviceman. The following year, the Rocky Top Battalion invited units from across the Southeast to participate, and units from across seven states marched in honor of the fallen soldier.
“[The Mountain Man] is a great way to publicly honor those that gave it all for our country,” said Squad Leader Dylan Yaksic of the University of Tennessee’s Army ROTC Program, “and it’s a great way to raise money for worthy causes.” Registration fees and monetary donations go to the American Legion Post 2, a Knoxville organization dedicated to veteran affairs of East Tennessee.
The course itself poses a great challenge to all who participate. Situated at the foot of the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg is anything but an easy destination to run at. Each course offers various hills for runners to traverse on their way to the finish line. One of the most difficult spots, Yaksic said, was the five-mile gradual increase in elevation on Highway 321 that then dropped into a steeper downhill run. The hills, heat, and sun offer up a challenging day for runners.
As the list of fallen soldiers who have sacrificed everything for our country grows each year, so does the Mountain Man’s participation. Fellow servicemen and women, spouses, siblings, friends, and strangers alike attend every year to celebrate and remember the sacrifice made by these brave individuals. The Mountain Man Memorial March is now one of the largest events of its kind on the East Coast and continues to grow and gain support.