For pastor Bobby Clemons, Chicago Marathon is more than a running race

Bobby Clemons, an ex-con who became a pastor, will run the Chicago Marathon in memory of a Marine friend who died in Vietnam. File photo by Tom McCarthy for AAS

Bobby Clemons, an ex-con who became a pastor, will run the Chicago Marathon in memory of a Marine friend who died in Vietnam. File photo by Tom McCarthy Jr. for AAS

 

When Bobby Clemons heads to Chicago in a few weeks to run a marathon, he’ll also make good on a promise he made 48 years ago.

Clemons, an ex-con who served years in prison before cleaning up his life and becoming a pastor, will visit the grave of his friend and fellow U.S. Marine Kenneth Campbell.

Bobby Clemons is a pastor at St. James Missionary Baptist Church. Pam LeBlanc/AAS

Bobby Clemons is a pastor at St. James Missionary Baptist Church. Pam LeBlanc/AAS

Clemons and Campbell made a foxhole promise in Vietnam that they would visit each other’s home towns when they returned from the war.

Fate intervened, however. Campbell was injured in a Feb. 1, 1968 attack. A few days later, Clemons was wounded and sent to the hospital. When he returned to his company, he learned that Campbell had died from his injuries, along with seven others in the unit.

“When I heard (Kenneth) had died, I kind of lost it there and then. I don’t think my life was right ever since,” Clemons said.

After the war, Clemons was in and out of trouble until 1990, when he found a Bible behind a commode in a holding cell at a California jail. He decided then and there to devote his life to God. He also took up running, and a prison guard encouraged him to one day run a marathon.

Clemons eventually became a pastor and now serves at St. James Missionary Baptist Church in East Austin.

He has run more than 50 marathons in honor of Campbell. Now he’s located his friend’s family, and plans to visit his friend’s gravesite with them while he is in Illinois to run the Chicago Marathon.

Bobby Clemons will meet with the family of a soldier who died in Vietnam when he is in Chicago. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AAS

Bobby Clemons will meet with the family of a soldier who died in Vietnam when he is in Chicago. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AAS

“I’m going to talk to his bones and tell him I hope his soul is with the lord and I’ll see him one day,” Clemons said.

He’s not sure of everything he’ll tell Campbell, but this much he knows he’ll say – “I’ve finally come to Chicago and I sure hate that we can’t fellowship together. I hope you made the right choice and accepted the lord and we’ll gather again one day.”

Clemons, 68, also has some business on the race course, too

Clemons, who is founder of the St. James Missions 5K, trains with Team Mac. He’s built up to about 50 miles a week in preparation for the Chicago race. He’s aiming to finish the marathon in under 5 hours.

“I think I’m going to run with the wind,” he said.

Read a story about Clemons’ life at http://tinyurl.com/zpty96j.


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