As Jon Bellona would jog along the northern New Jersey shore, the gap in the New York City skyline where the World Trade Center Twin Towers once stood always drew his attention.
On his route in 2007 Bellona passed a piece of twisted metal, a curled burnt sculpture from the Towers. When he took the train in to New York City for work each day, the route went through the former World Trade Center stop.
The run, the ride, always led to reflections of the Pennsylvania native assigned as his roommate during their freshman year at Hamilton College. Bellona and Michael Cleary grew to be best friends through their years on The Hill and after their 2003 graduation.
In December 2005 Cleary, a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was killed in action in Iraq. After the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, Cleary focused on serving his country after earning his college degree.
“I met Mike on Day One at Hamilton,’’ said Bellona, an instructor at the University of Oregon in the School of Music and Dance. “We hit it off. He had an infectious smile and charisma that drew in everyone around him.’’
While taking his runs near his then-home in New Jersey in 2007, Bellona thought about honoring his friend and those who also gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Talking to Hamilton friends, and members of Cleary’s family, including his sister, Erin, a 1991 graduate of Hamilton, Bellona pitched an idea. To honor Michael, and all those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bellona, 26 at the time, and others who knew Cleary would run across the United States.
Each mile would be dedicated to a military member who lost a life in the war. Bellona mapped out a route that started in Fort Irwin, California on Flag Day June 14 and ended in Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C. 10 weeks later.
Using Bellona’s van as mobile command center, and sometimes a place…