FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – What started as a spur of the moment idea ten years ago, is now an organization that touches hundreds of families across 42 states and three countries. The roots of Flags 4 Fallen can be traced back to a Portland, Indiana Army veteran running Fort4Fitness in Fort Wayne.

“We’re honoring their lives and we’re trying to give one of our days of our life and dedicate it to them. So their memories never die,” Richard Clark, Flags 4 Fallen founder, said.

Clark still lives out lessons he learned long ago in the Army. He served in the 82nd airborne division at Fort Bragg.

“I was infantry – a machine gunner and squad leader and a paratrooper. I completed 54 jumps. I’m afraid of heights so that was a really big deal,” Clark said.

Clark is also a runner. In 2012 he signed up for the Fort4Fitness half marathon in Fort Wayne.

“I decided the night before to buy a flag and wrapped it in a black towel to signify mourning. I was thinking of Iraq and Afghanistan. I had no idea what to do with it when I finished and I went in the crowd and there was a lady I’d never met and I gave her the flag. Her son was KIA in Iraq, so I started doing that in all my races; pick a stranger to give it to. It felt good, but also felt hollow. Then it dawned on me to reach out to a family and carry the flag for that family member,” Clark explained. “The next thing I know, other runners want to get involved.”

Flags 4 Fallen was born. Ten years later, 510 flags have been carried in 42 states and three countries, giving families a new memory of their lost loved one.

“I just want the family to look at this and say we did everything we could because anything worth doing is worth doing excellently. That was on a plaque somewhere in Fort Bragg and I’ve never forgotten,” Clark said.

In this year’s Fort4Fitness, Clark carried a flag for Madison Clark (no relation). She was 20 years old when she died in 2016. Flags 4 Fallen carries flags for anyone gone too soon.

“The flag is for everybody. It represents unity so we offer this for everybody,” Clark said.

Madi’s mom, Tina Clark, and aunt Angi Newkirk, were at the race to receive her flag.

“I’ve never had a day like this. It feels so good. It feels like she’s here,” Tina Clark said.

Seventeen runners carried flags to honor 21 people in this years’ races. Just past the finish line is a flag folding ceremony and often a presentation to the family.

Drake Geiger, 16, died during football practice in Omaha, Nebraska. His mom and sister made the drive to Fort Wayne to accept the flag carried in his honor.

“We’re going to hold onto this memory forever. We’re really thankful,” Ashely Geiger, Drake’s sister, said.

Lillian Hinds, 11, carried a flag for Kious Kelly, the first nurse to die from COVID in New York.

“He didn’t get to say goodbye to any of his family which is really sad and I know how his family feels because I’ve lost many loved ones, so we just have to carry it. Just trying to do our best to honor the people we can,” Hinds said.

The flag for Madi now sits on her mom’s mantel. Tina and Angi plan to pay it forward by carrying a flag in a race for someone else next year.

“I know the feeling and I just want one person to feel what I feel. I want one person to feel it,” Tina said.

Richard Clark says you can feel the emotion when he gives families the flags.

“You see it in their eyes when you hug them. They’re trembling, but a good tremble. You know they’ve had so much pain and now they have this, even if it’s just for a day. But they’re going to have that flag and the pictures and they can go back to this day and feel it again,” Clark said.