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Sonya Sorich: Honoring Pfc. Brandon Buttry and other fallen heroes

The folded piece of paper sits in a zipped pocket of my purse. Open it and you'll see prominent bold writing: Pfc. Brandon Buttry.

Two safety pins remain at the upper corners of the paper, which now bears some creases. I wore it on my chest during Saturday's Soldier Half Marathon.

There were moments when I worried it had fallen off.

I'd slightly slow my pace, look down and respond with unspoken relief. Brandon sacrificed his life. Those periodic checks were the least I could do in return.

The Soldier Marathon and Half Marathon let participants run in honor of a fallen hero.

I found mine unexpectedly.

Steve Buttry is a fellow journalist I've long followed on social media. Last week, I learned his nephew, 19-year-old Brandon, was killed in Afghanistan. I'd never met Steve or Brandon. But I immediately decided to run in Brandon's honor.

Before going to work one day, I wrote Steve a Facebook message and shared my plan. He said he was honored, just like the rest of Brandon's family.

At that point, I knew fairly little about Brandon -- aside from the fact that he was a fallen hero.

I learned more as Saturday's race approached.

He was from Iowa. He completed basic training at Fort Benning. He came from a family that valued running.

He had 13 brothers and sisters, "a mix of biological and adopted children who hail from four different countries but for years shared the family's one bathroom," according to an article in the Omaha World Herald.

"And Brandon grew up wanting to join the Army. Like his grandfather, he wore his nation's uniform," his uncle wrote in a blog post following Brandon's death.

That's what I knew when I began the half marathon Saturday. I also knew I was doing something special and important for Brandon's family, though I couldn't shake a belief that it was not enough.

I crossed the finish line, came home and told Brandon's story as I summarized my race experience to family and friends. When the half marathon was no longer a topic of conversation, I put my "fallen hero" race tag in my purse. I vowed to revisit it in moments that test my strength.

When viewed in isolation, it is just a name.

It's my responsibility, through words and actions, to make Brandon more than that.

Sonya Sorich, reporter, can be reached at or 706-571-8516. Visit to read her columns.