A veteran who fought at Iwo Jima during World War II is looking to become the oldest Marine to participate in the annual Marine Corps Marathon.
Along with his small team of marathoners, T. Fred Harvey plans to cross the finish line in a wheelchair on Sunday, four days shy of his 97th birthday.
Like many other races, the coronavirus pandemic has forced event organizers to hold a virtual race this year instead of the physical race in Washington. But that’s not stopping Harvey’s team, which will set off at 7 a.m. from the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
“I haven’t competed in a marathon before, but I’ve never been afraid of a challenge,” Harvey said in a press release. “And I’m lucky to have good friends who are expert runners. Without their help and my racing chariot, this would never be possible. I’ve traveled the world and accomplished more than I ever imagined, but it will be one of my greatest honors to cross the finish line as a proud U.S. Marine.”
Originally a Paramarine, Harvey was tasked with handling demolitions with the 5th Marine Division during its island-hopping campaign, which eventually landed them on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima in February 1945.
Despite heavy bombardment by American forces to soften the battleground for invasion, Harvey and his fellow Marines had to contend with some 21,000 Japanese soldiers hidden in the network of underground tunnels.
Harvey was injured by two grenades on the island and received the Silver Star for saving the life of a fellow Marine.
Accompanying Harvey on the 26-mile marathon will be Glenn Paige, a former anesthesiologist, ambassador for the Navy SEAL Foundation and U.S. Naval Academy blue & gold officer, a mentor for prospective students.
Though Paige didn’t serve, his father retired a commander in the Navy, so he’s naturally drawn to veterans and service, he told Marine Corps Times.
Paige first met Harvey, a former high school coach, at a country club in North Carolina four years ago when he traveled from Texas to visit a former athlete of his. Paige was celebrating his birthday and received a cake featuring the Marine Corps Marathon emblem, which symbolizes the scene of the flag raising at Iwo Jima.
“I said to my wife, ‘I’ve never met an Iwo Jima Marine and there’s one sitting outside at our country club. I can’t cut this cake. I need to go and let him cut the cake and take the first piece,’” Paige told Marine Corps Times.
Harvey gave Paige a copy of his book and the two became friends. Paige said he and Harvey have spoken every week since they met.
Paige said he wanted to get Harvey to attend the 2019 marathon as a VIP, but due to travel issues he wasn’t able to make it.
Paige decided to take it a step further in 2020 and include Harvey as a marathoner. He spoke with event organizers, who then connected him with Ainsley’s Angels, a Virginia-based nonprofit founded by former U.S. Marine Maj. Kim “Rooster” Rossiter and his wife, Lori.
“What better way to celebrate his 97th birthday and his service and commemorate the 75th anniversary (of the Battle of Iwo Jima) than to have him run the marathon,” Paige said.
Also on Harvey’s marathon team is Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Mike Lawrence and Chris Haley, a member of Team Gratitude, a Frogman Swim team Paige founded to raise money for the Navy SEAL Foundation.
After the race, Harvey’s wheelchair will be donated in his honor to the Marine Corps Marathon for use by wounded Marines and special needs families participating in the race.
Harvey’s team set up a GoFundMe account to raise $5,000 for his racing chair, with any funds beyond that going to the National Museum of the Pacific War and the Admiral Nimitz Foundation, Paige said. As of Friday, the campaign raised just $4,525.