James Theinert crossed the finish line at the FDNY Ten House on Liberty Street in lower Manhattan Sunday morning, completing his leg of a 136-mile run from the Montauk Lighthouse.
Theinert had company on his trek. But, he said, it wasn't just the other 32 runners.
"He was always faster than me," he said of his brother, Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, 24, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010 by a roadside bomb. "After a mile he would always ditch me, but today he was with me," he said, smiling.
Theinert has run for the last two years to honor his fallen brother and help raise money for Hope for the Warriors, a charity for returning veterans.
"I do it because I get to tell Joe's story and listen to other stories from families. And to be down here at Ground Zero is a huge motivating factor. It's important to also honor the people that died here as well," said Theinert, 25, a math teacher, who ran for 33 miles. As soon as he finished, he embraced his father, also named James, who had waited in the chill winds for his son.
"It is the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy every day," the elder Theinert, of Sag Harbor, said of his other son's passing. "It's important that we bring that awareness to this Memorial weekend and realize that their service gives us freedom to do what we want to do.
"My son grew up wanting to be a cowboy and then a soldier. He loved his country and he wanted to serve," said the elder Theinert, retired from FDNY Ladder 117 in Astoria, Queens.
The runners kept a continuous pace since leaving Montauk early Saturday morning, taking turns for varying distances and resting in an RV that followed.
Runner and Marine Capt. Michael Darling, 38, said the run was organized specifically to remember the 48 members of the 3rd Battalion 25th Marine Regiment who died in Al Anbar province in Iraq in 2005.
"You still feel it eight years later. We're out here today for those guys who are still over there. They are never forgotten," Darling said.
FDNY Fire Marshal Kieran T. Burke of Breezy Point presented the Marine regiment with a map that was used by FDNY first responders on Sept. 15, 2001, during the recovery effort after 9/11.
"Thank you for continuing your service for the civilians who were murdered across the street. This is hallowed ground and you let the world know that this will not happen again," said Burke, who made the presentation at the FDNY bronze relief memorial.
Christian Haerter, 55, of Sag Harbor, also received a flag from the runners who went over the North Haven-Sag Harbor Bridge, which has been renamed after his son Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter. Haerter, a rifleman, died after he killed a suicide bomber driving a truck packed with 2,000 pounds of explosives. The bomb killed him, but he saved the lives of more than 50 Marines and Iraqi police officers in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2008.