Above: Ky Klingsick, Erik Gomez and Kevin Heaton run down Dumas Avenue on Memorial Day to remind people of the meaning of the holiday. (Steve Ramos/Moore County Journal)

By Steve Ramos

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It’s a scene that would have sent Normal Rockwell scrambling for his brushes and paint. Three young men running through the streets of small-town America, holding American flags high over their heads. It was pure Americana. Pure red, white and blue.

On Memorial Day, Kevin Heaton, 19, Ky Klingsick, 17, and Erik Gomez, 19, ran 5.5 miles through Dumas’ streets, carrying American flags that sometimes flew above them and sometimes embraced them, depending on the capricious Panhandle breeze. Some people honked to show their support as the young men ran with a stamina fueled by patriotism and a love for their country.

“Erik and I came up with the idea of doing the run last year,” Heaton said. “The idea hit us both almost at the same time. We wanted to do something that would build patriotism throughout Dumas, for people to know what Memorial Day is really about.”

Both of Heaton’s grandfathers served in Korea, and he has two cousins who are Marines. Gomez joined the Marines Corps Reserve last year, and Klingsick’s grandfather served in the Army.

“I didn’t run with Kevin and Erik last year, but I was all into it when they brought the idea to me,” Klingsick said. “I love knowing our country is safe, and this was something I could do to thank the people who sacrificed to make it safe.”

The young men’s purpose for the run is simple: to honor the men and women who sacrificed to keep America free and strong and to remind people that as long as Americans pull together, the nation will continue to be strong.

“You hear all those rumors on the news about all the threats against our country, but if we all pull together as Americans always have, we’ll make it,” Klingsick said. “We’ve made it this far.”

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Heaton and Gomez graduated from Dumas High School in 2014, and Heaton will be a sophomore at the University of Texas in the fall. Gomez will begin his freshman year at West Texas A&M University, having taking the first year out of high school to attend Marine Corp basic training. Klingsick will be a senior at DHS in the fall.

Gomez said one of the reasons he wanted to run with the flags was to counter some of the anti-American sentiments he saw on social media. The U.S. flag stirs in him feelings of deep gratitude for people who have served the country, and although his family was concerned when he joined the Marine Corps Reserve, he says they are now proud of him.

For Heaton and Klingsick, patriotism coursed through their homes, and the young men grew up always aware of the debt all Americans owe to the men and women who died serving their country.

“When I’m running, I think about the suffering those Americans went through,” Heaton said. “I push myself hard for them.”

Gomez, the first person in his family to join the military, thinks of the red-and-white-striped cloth anchored with a star-sprinkled corner of blue as he runs, and says he’s overwhelmed with feeling.

“The flag is a symbol of what this nation stands for,” he said. “I feel very proud having the flag flying beside me as I run.”

The young men plan to run next year on Memorial Day and hope they can get other people to join them.

“It would be incredible if we had about 50 people running through Dumas, all carrying American flags,” Klingsick said. “Everyone honoring our country and the people who died to defend it.”

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