For years, Ken Johnson’s goal was to run 101 marathons in honor of those who have served with the 101st Airborne Division, the unit he served with in Vietnam. On February 15, 2014, Ken completed that goal at the Love.Run.Marathon. in Huntsville State Park. Ken, wearing bib number 101, ran with flag-bearing members of Team RWB, a veteran advocacy group. At the finish line, Ken was treated to a hero’s welcome.
“Normally when I finish a marathon, almost everyone is gone,” he laughs, “but when I got to the finish line, there were two police cars with sirens going. They were playing the Army song, and the race gave me a large, special-made trophy. They also had a big cake for me. I had a lot of family and friends there, so it was special.”
What happened next was even a bigger surprise to the retired army lieutenant colonel. When Ken and his friend Bill Moeller, who was carrying the 101st Airborne flag, ran past Bill’s wife Bridget, she snapped a photo. Ken posted the photo on a Facebook page of the 101st Airborne Division Association, where it quickly went viral with 625 likes and 516 shares. “What a great tribute to all who served in the 101st,” one person commented. “Thank you for your service! This is awesome!”
One of the hundreds of Facebook pages that re-posted the photo was the U.S. Army’s recruiting page, where the photo earned thousands of likes, as well as comments from people around the world. Many comments were from past and present family members of 101st Airborne soldiers, who thanked Ken for his tribute.
Although Ken, 73, has now completed his final marathon, his running “streak” is still alive. On October 18, he celebrated five years without missing a day of running. He has run over 50 races (from 5K to 25K) since his final marathon; on November 2, he ran his 750th lifetime race.