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Watermelon Run For The Fallen



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Run for the Fallen is a National Event! It all started in 2008, when a team of runners ran across America from Fort Irwin, CA to Arlington National Cemetery, one mile for every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Visit Run For The Fallen for more information).

Because the purpose of this event is to remember each individual who gave his or her life serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan, participants are asked to walk/run/roll a mile in memory of a fallen service member.

If you knew one of the fallen, you may run for that person, if not, you will be introduced to a fallen hero during registration. Every participant that donates $30 for entry, will receive a shirt tag with the name of the military member for whom that individual will be walking/running/rolling for. Not everyone who registers participates in the 5k, many simply register to be an official part of the event, and to pay their personal respects.

We host the Watermelon Run For The Fallen event in loving memory of SSG Jeffery Lee Hartley, come Run Walk or Roll with us in his memory. We would love to see you there!

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Our History

Events occur every day. Some affect us personally, some affect our communities, and some affect our nation. Some events are never forgotten, and we remember them like they happened yesterday.

One such event that affected the City of Hempstead occurred on April 8, 2008, and it was a tragic loss to our community and my family. It was a day that we lost one of our own, my son SSG Jeffery Lee Hartley, in the war in Iraq. Jeffrey grew up in Hempstead, played football in high school, was in the band, and powerlifted. He worked in our local businesses; he was a friend to everyone and was known for his smile and generosity. Following graduation in 2001, he joined the Army with the goal of becoming an Army Ranger.

During his military career, Jeffrey deployed five times: four times to Iraq, and once to Afghanistan. He earned eight Army Commendation Medals—one with valor—and two Bronze Stars—one with valor. He always said that he wanted to return to his hometown and have a small ranch. He was quick to let everyone know how proud he was to be from Hempstead, Texas.

The love that was shown to my family after the loss of Jeffrey was overwhelming and was truly appreciated. My wife and I always wanted to find a way to repay the support the citizens of Hempstead had shown us. In June 2010, we heard about a group that organized a run from Fort Irwin, California, to Arlington National Cemetery. At every mile, runners placed a flag and biography of a service member who had been killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The organization, known as Run for the Fallen, was trying to get other groups across the country to hold events on the third weekend of August to remember our fallen. My wife Ann, and I talked about it, and my youngest son, who also served in the Army as an Army Ranger and had been deployed to Iraq, said that he would like to see how many really cared and would show up.

We enlisted the help of local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Scott Duncan, who had also served in Iraq with the U S Army's Tenth Mountain Division, City of Hempstead Alderwoman Patricia Chernosky and a multitude of volunteers to help us put the event together. Hempstead is known to have the best watermelons in the country, so we decided to name the event Watermelon Run for the Fallen. In less than six weeks—on August 21, 2010—the inaugural event took place.

In six short weeks, the citizens of Hempstead gathered together and worked many hours making sure that each of the fallen was respectfully represented in an honorable way. The Hempstead Garden Club came together and worked like busy bees putting the t-shirts, wristbands, and biographies together for each person who would participate. The sight of these women working reminded us of the assembly lines that were put together during World War II to assemble bandages to send to the troops serving overseas. Individuals worked from daylight to the deep hours of the night to ensure that everything was done with honor and respect.

The City of Hempstead City Council voted to assist with the first event, allocated money to support the event, and provided assistance in putting the event together. Over 1,500 people attended the first event. Six Gold Star Families (families that have lost a loved one in combat) attended.

Following the success of the inaugural event, a board of directors was appointed and a 501(c)(3) was established to organize and plan future events. Each year since, the city has voted to provide funds and manpower to assist in the event, which takes place the third Saturday of August.

In 2012, more than 4,100 people attended the Watermelon Run for the Fallen. Families came from 16 different states, and there was one international visitor. More than 50 Gold Star Families came to pay honor and respect to the fallen from Texas.

These families come because it has become a healing time for them and has helped them heal some of the pain they have carried for years. I have seen wounded attend and pay respect to their fallen brothers and sisters. One individual comes each year and runs wearing the boot of his fellow Marine who was killed in action. What makes his endeavor special is that he only has one leg; an improvised explosive device took his other leg. These are the men and women who make our event what it is. The City of Hempstead has shown not only my family much love, but also each family that comes to Hempstead, who feels the same love, honor, and respect.

Shortly after the war in Iraq was declared over, I was asked what I thought about the war ending. I told them it will never be over for each family that lost a loved one, it will never be over for the men and women who served, and it will never be over for the communities that lost one of their own. We have a DUTY to HONOR our fallen who gave their lives for our COUNTRY. Duty, Honor, and Country are words that ring in my head daily. The City of Hempstead will not forget, nor allow anyone else to forget, our fallen. The City of Hempstead and its citizens are committed to making sure that our military and their families are not forgotten and will always be honored in the most respectful way possible.

On April 15, 2013, the U.S. Army and the City of Hempstead entered into a community covenant. By signing this covenant, the city agrees to support the military, and the military agrees to support the city. As a result, the City of Hempstead and its citizens have been able to assist and support our military’s wounded through the efforts of a partnership with Operation Military Embrace, a Texas-based military support group located in Tomball, Texas.

As you can see, the City of Hempstead and its citizens are some of the most loving, caring, and respectful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.

By David Hartley, Chief of Police, City of Hempstead

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The Day Of The Run


The Day Of The Event

2022 Program

Watermelon Run For The Fallen, Inc.

Saturday 20 August 2022

Hempstead High School Football Stadium

500 Donoho Street, Hempstead, Texas 77445

  • 0600 Registration for the 5k & Pre-Registration Pick-up

  • 0630 Ziggy Moonshine & The Bootleggers entertain

  • 0635: Patriots on bikes w/helo escort

  • 0700: Army Recruiters’ Color Guard moves into position

  • 0705: VFW Color Guard ordered to post the colors

  • 0708: Pledge of Allegiance 

  • 0709: Opening prayer

  • 0711: Nat’l Anthem 1SG Tommy Bell, USA, Ret./Fire Dept.

  • 0714: VFW Color Guard ordered to retire the colors

  • 0715: Master Sergeant Tolliver Hill presenting the missing man table with flag retirement followed by the swearing in of new recruits.

  • 0720: 5k begins on track with line-up called by announcer – 5k ends in downtown at SSG Jeffery Lee Hartley Memorial

Gazebo & SSG Jeffery Lee Hartley Memorial

1000 11th Street, Hempstead, Texas 77445

  • 0830: Patriotic music provided by Darby Ledbetter & the Band of Brothers

  • 0900: The United States Flag and 5k runners begin arriving

    • Display of Texas Fallen Heroes Memorial Traveling Wall sponsored by Rolling Thunder

    • Static military displays – Army, U. S. M. C., Navy & Coast Guard etc.

Master of Ceremonies – 

  • 1000: Flags ordered to half staff per authority of Gov. Abbott

  • 1015: Introduction of Hempstead Mayor Erica Gillum

  • 1020: Introduction of WRFTF V-P Tony Fourroux

  • 1025: Initiation of Roll Call – 

  • 11:35: Flags ordered to full staff.

  • ​11:45: static displays and continuing activities

Shuttle buses provide transportation from and to football stadium parking area courtesy of Hempstead Independent School District

Home: The day of the event

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them.”

John F. Kennedy

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Home: Product Gallery

Coming Soon

online merchandise store

From here you will be able to order different designs and place them on various items such as t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, or vertually anything you wish all year around.

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Contact Watermelon Run For The Fallen

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