Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, April 6, 2013 | 3:50 p.m.
The memory is still fresh for Pamela Sykes-Barrett, even eight years later.
As she stood on the Strip outside the Cosmopolitan at the Windy25 Memorial 5K on Saturday, her mind drifted back to that tragic day in 2005. Her eyes welled up with tears as she stared off into the distance, looking back on the day she heard the bad news.
The day she learned her son, Spc. Pendleton Sykes II, and 15 others died in a helicopter crash in Ghazni, Afghanistan.
She’s not alone. Sykes-Barrett is surrounded by mothers, fathers, spouses, children and extended family, who also lost loved ones in the crash. For the past three years, many of them have gathered for this race. They form a family forever unified by a single tragedy, and this race is their reunion.
“It’s hard every year,” said Gloria Hackwith, who lost her son Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clint Prather. “We’re glad to be here because we’ve become a family. It’s nice.”
The Windy25 Memorial 5K is held to commemorate the 11 passengers and five fallen members of the Windy25 flight crew and to raise money for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Race organizer Craig Wilhelm said about 500 participants signed up for the third annual race, raising more than $46,000 for TAPS.
Wilhelm said the race has raised about $130,000 in three years, but more importantly, it has increased awareness of the people who died in combat and the families they left behind.
About 55 family members and former crew members attended the race this year. Each wore a picture of their fallen soldier pinned to their shirt. Some ran in the race, while others watched from the sideline and reminisced.
“It’s great. You see so many people you haven’t seen for eight years,” said Sgt. Nestor Rodriguez, who served in Windy25. “It’s pretty amazing.”
During the race, Gloria and Dave Hackwith traded stories of their son’s prodigious pranks and sense of humor with Rodriguez.
“Clint was full of crap,” Gloria Hackwith said laughing. “He always loved to pull jokes on people. His imitations of Jim Carrey were so much fun.”
“Every time you were around him, you were laughing,” Rodriguez added. “It is people like this you can’t forget.”
Sheldon and Angie Spivey, the uncle and aunt of Spc. Michael Spivey, ran in the race for the second time in support of their nephew. Angie Spivey said she thought of Michael as the sun beat down on her sweat-soaked face, and the fatigue began to become too much.
He gave her inspiration.
“I was asking Michael: ‘Please give me your legs. I don’t know if I can finish without them,’” Angie Spivey said.
The memory of what those who died in the crash sacrificed also served as motivation for runners who didn’t know them personally. For many, it pushed them to keep running despite the heat and growing fatigue.
“I just thought of those who died and the people who loved them,” said Abel McGee, who served as a Marine. “Then I thought it could have been me.”
At the end of the race, the runners and honored family members watched the award ceremony at the Cosmopolitan pool. Later, the families would get together for dinner on the Strip.
The memories of what each lost April 6, 2005, will never stray far from their minds or get any easier, but that’s why they are there for one another at the Windy25 Memorial 5K. They are family.