5K walk/run to remember fallen Mokena soldier
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org August 8, 2014 10:28PM
A veteran pays his respects to Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen during a visitation for the fallen Mokena soldier. A 5k run/walk in Toppen's memory will be held next month.
Updated: September 11, 2014 6:33AM
A 5K run and walk for a Mokena soldier killed in Afghanistan will be held next month in the village.
The Sept. 27 event in memory of Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen will take place at Willowview Park.
The 19-year-old Toppen and four other soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on June 9 in a friendly fire incident while on patrol. Military officials said an air strike was called in after the unit he was part of was ambushed by the Taliban.
He enlisted in July 2013, shortly after his graduation last year from Lincoln-Way East High School, and his family said he’d long wanted to serve in the military, as his grandfathers had.
Proceeds from the run and walk will benefit the Pat Tillman Foundation, established after the April 2004 death of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman, which provides scholarships to military veterans and their spouses. According to the foundation, it has provided 290 scholarships worth $4.6 million since its founding in 2004.
Tillman played football for the Arizona Cardinals, but left the NFL in June 2002 to enlist in the Army. Deployed to Afghanistan, Tillman’s death initially was reported as being the result of coming under enemy fire, but it later was determined that he had been killed in a friendly fire incident.
Family members said Toppen had hoped to use his military experience to pursue a career in law enforcement. In a statement promoting the run, Toppen’s mom, Pam, said her son might have been able to benefit from a scholarship such as those offered by the Tillman Foundation.
“It was always our hope that if Aaron had returned back to the U.S. and decided to take a different path outside the military, that he would have had the opportunity to seek out assistance through these types of programs,” she said. “Our intent (with the run and walk) is to reach and help veterans.”
The run starts at 8 a.m. and will begin and end at Willowview Park, 11420 W. 197th St. A portion of the route will take runners along Townline Road, which is expected to be given an honorary designation for Toppen sometime next month.
Online registrations will be taken at ourfallenhero5k.com until Sept. 21, and runners also can register the day of the event until 7:30 a.m.
The cost is $30 for runners older than 18, and $15 for those 18 and younger.
Following the run, awards will be presented to the top finishers, and there will be a raffle, refreshments and entertainment at the park.
Free parking for the run will be available at Mokena Elementary and Mokena Intermediate schools east of Willowview.
The soldier’s death was the second major tragedy this year for Toppen’s family. His father, Ronald, died in February, and Toppen’s deployment overseas was delayed so that he could attend his father’s funeral.