The eighth annual Run to Home Base presented by New Balance raised nearly $2 million to support key programs at Home Base to help veterans and their families heal from the invisible wounds, such as post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), and welcomed thousands of Home Base supporters to Fenway Park. This year was especially poignant as Home Base’s Executive Director, Brigadier General (ret.) Jack Hammond announced that Home Base, which since its inception has focused on Veterans of Post-9/11 conflicts, will expand its scope to offer care to Veterans and their families of all generations, including Vietnam veterans.
“Many of them had thought they were supporting their country, they felt they were doing the right thing, and then they came home and they really didn’t get that sense of support that we all benefited [from] in the Post-9/11 generation,” he said during the race’s opening ceremony. “Although we can’t undo the past, we sure as hell can do something about the future.”
The event’s opening ceremony was hosted by Tom Caron and featured notable speakers such as Red Sox President Sam Kennedy; Congressman Joe Kennedy III; City of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh; Massachusetts General Hospital President Dr. Peter Slavin; New Balance Vice President of Running Tom Carleo and 4-star Army General (ret.) Fred Franks who led a moving tribute, offering a richly deserved “Welcome Home” to the Vietnam veterans in attendance.
Franks, who is a Senior Advisor and Honorary Board Member of Home Base recounted his time in service and credited his fellow Vietnam veterans for their selflessness and bravery. The crowd — which consisted of nearly 2,400 runners and walkers participating in either a 9K or 5K, 300 of them active-duty service members and military families — cheered as Vietnam veterans stood, waved, and wiped the tears from their eyes.
Participants agreed one of the most moving examples of their reason for running was Captain Brian Bergson, a 12-year veteran of the Army and a graduate of the Home Base program’s two-week intensive clinical program who shared his story that morning.
After he returned from a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan, Bergson said torturous memories from the war played over in his mind, keeping him from sleeping and leaving him feeling isolated. At first, he turned to alcohol to help him fall asleep. Bergson said he took a chance and decided to travel to Boston from his home in St. Paul, Minn., after learning about the services Home Base offers veterans experiencing similar trauma. “Home Base got me to feel again,” he said. “Because they took a broken man that didn’t want to live, and treated not only my PTS but my entire body — they put me back together, and they loved me.”
As a “thank you” and a testament to the care provided to him at Home Base, Bergson participated in the 5K race along with three other Veterans who went through the Intensive Clinical Program (ICP) with him in December 2016. Together they raised nearly $14K for Home Base; Brian earning the 3rd top individual fundraiser title overall.
“Home Base is my second family,” he added between deep breaths, his voice wavering. “Today we run to raise awareness about the help that is out there for our Veterans. Today we run for the soldiers who deployed in harm’s way. Today we run for the staff of Home Base because they save lives.”
After an inspiring opening ceremony, closed with Bergson’s emotional story, the race kicked off outside the ballpark on Yawkey Way and the first runners crossed the finish line — home base — a few minutes before 9 a.m. Runners took the Boston streets dressed in tutus and patriotic clothing: some opted to carry giant flags for the entirety of the run. Once inside the ballpark, participants were met with thank you’s from Veterans and Service Members, including Vietnam veteran Medal of Honor recipient CAPT (ret.) Thomas Kelley and Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Francisco Ureña. WCVB-TV’s Karen Anderson was also on the first base line interviewing runners for their Fenway Park video-board debut as they crossed home plate.
Throughout the morning, spectators and runners alike were met with a multitude of free family activities. BAE Systems presented a Military Appreciation Area where attendants could make care packages and write thank you notes for Service Members. Red Sox fans rejoiced as they took photos with the 2004, 2007 and 2013 World Series Trophies. Wally and Tessie the Green Monsters were also on hand to cheer on runners to home plate.
Vietnam Veterans Get Their Day at Fenway
The Run to Home Base was the jump-start to a daylong “welcome home” to Vietnam veterans. Later that afternoon, during the on-field pregame ceremony of the Red Sox vs. Yankees game, Home Base and the Red Sox Foundation honored more than 1,300 Vietnam Veterans and their family members on the field in the largest recognition ceremony of its kind ever held in the United States.
In attendance for the ceremony were Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, U.S. Army Major General Paul LaCamera, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Retired U.S. Army General Eric Ken Shinseki, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff and retired U.S Army General George William Casey Jr., Retired Army Lieutenant General Joseph E. DeFrancisco, and Wounded Warriors Project CEO and Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael S. Linnington.
A moment of silence and the playing of the national anthem concluded the pregame ceremony, along with the flyover of four F-15 jets. In the middle of the third inning, members of the sellout crowd — along with Yankees and Red Sox players and coaches — held out placards displaying the name of a veteran that they wished to honor in a powerful demonstration of unity and honor.