CASPER, Wyo. — Cathy Powers is a hugger.
She is an American Gold Star Mother who is attempting to run 1,000 miles, stopping in all fifty states to honor fallen military veterans.
Her son, Senior Airman Bryce Powers died in a motor vehicle accident while stationed at Misawa, Japan on April 26, 2013.
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“We never in a million years thought that would happen,” Powers said while visiting the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery in Evansville on Wednesday, Aug. 14.
Those words came after she took the time to hug everyone present.
Powers was passing through Casper on her way to Cheyenne, where she will run with service members at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base on Thursday.
The Patriot Guard Riders formed a flag line to welcome her to the Casper area. Powers then spent time visiting the graves of some of the nearly 3,000 veterans buried there.
Saying the names of veterans is something that people supporting “Wreaths across America” do to keep fallen veterans in memory. Powers said that there is a saying that people die twice, once upon physical death and again when people stop saying their names.
“I love to say the names because I know first hand what it means to have someone say my son’s name,” she said.
When her son passed, Powers originally didn’t know about Wreaths across America. She remembers feeling concerned after something her husband said at her son’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I remember my husband saying, ‘At the end of the day, don’t get used to this, because people forget,'” she said.
When visiting her son’s grave one winter, she noticed that a Christmas wreath had been placed on her son’s headstone.
“I finally found out those wreaths were not Christmas decorations, somebody sponsored them,” Powers said.
She learned that Wreaths across America places wreaths at 1,600 cemeteries across the country, with people saying the names of fallen veterans as this is done.
Powers underwent a significant transformation as she began to heal from the loss of her son.
“Two years ago, I was driving to get the mail from my own mailbox,” she said, adding that she was once 292 pounds. “I decided I was wasting my life.”
Then, she began to turn her health and emotional life around.
“I lost 140 pounds,” Powers said. “Even more important, I started to lose that poison that was inside of me, that feeling that life was ruined.”
“I was 51 when I started running. This year, January 1, I decided I wanted to do something that was bigger than me.”
She participated in a half marathon at a veterans park in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Then she had the idea to run in every state to help ensure that veterans are not forgotten.
Wreaths across America caught wind of her plans and provided her a car and a gas card for her journey. They also offered her a stipend, but Powers turned this down upon recommendation from her husband.
People in her hometown then helped wrap and decorate the vehicle which she has been using to drive across the country between runs.
Powers has now completed 664.4 miles of running.
“I’m telling our veterans, ‘I love you, you are not forgotten, we appreciate you,'” she said.
When she completes a run in each state, she asks a veteran to place an American flag sticker on top of a place-marker for that state on the back of her vehicle.
Powers skirted her rules a little on Wednesday, allowing a veteran and member of the Patriot Guard Riders to place a sticker on the Wyoming marker. She jogged a quick circle in the cemetery parking lot ahead of this.
Powers’ journey will culminate on December 14, which is national wreath laying day for Wreaths Across America.
She will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington.
Casper area residents will join her that day from a distance.
“We’ve worked hard the last few years to raise money to place Christmas wreaths on the grave of every veteran here at Oregon Trail,” Kathy Thomas, a volunteer and co-chair of the Natrona County Republican Women said.
“We’ve been very pleased with the outpouring of patriotism here in Casper. We had 1,000 people show up last year.”
They’ll be holding a gala on October 12 at the Fairgrounds to raise money for this winter’s wreath laying ceremony. Tickets will be $50.
“Wreaths Across America’s motto is to remember the fallen, honor those who have served and their families and teach the value of freedom,” Thomas said.
Powers still has a ways to go.
“I’ve had a marathon of healing,” she said. “I’m praying that I make it the whole way.”
She wants other veterans to know that she recognizes their dedication and sacrifices like her son’s.
“With him not here, I take everyone who is serving and they’re my sons and daughters,” she said. “Our veterans will never be forgotten.”