As the sun rose above the Iowa State Capitol, 16 Air Force ROTC cadets stood in files on either side of a podium, as Adam Gregg, Iowa lieutenant governor, spoke Friday morning.
"Today we are all here for a solemn purpose and a time of solemn remembrance," Gregg said.
On the third Friday of each September, the day is recognized as Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Day. The Air Force ROTC unit at Iowa State commemorates this day by running from the Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines to the Memorial Union on Iowa State's campus, a 32-mile journey.
"The day is a remembrance of those that are still missing, which we still have from past wars," said Paul Wiza, a senior who ran in his third POW/MIA run Friday. "They're not forgotten, even if they are lost."
Even today, nearly 83,000 Americans remain unaccounted for, from wars spanning back to World War II, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
"We must always keep those POW/MIA soldiers and their families in our hearts and mind," Gregg said.
Each year, the cadets begin at the Iowa State Capitol and run along U.S. Highway 69 north into Ames, to the Memorial Union, ending in the Gold Star Hall.
In whole, the run spans 32 miles, longer than a marathon. For many, the run is split up and a second group of cadets joins along the route. Wiza decided to attempt to conquer the whole run.
"It's a long run," Wiza said, "I don't know where my mind will be 18 to 20 miles in, but for such a special day and having the cadets beside me will definitely motivate me to push through any physical pain I have to make it the whole way."
Wiza said he ran 28 of the 32 miles three years ago, and about 26 miles the year before.
The Air Force ROTC cadets do regular physical training, but Wiza himself has put in a little extra time so he accomplishes his goal. This summer, Wiza said he went through marathon training and that he's had this day in mind for a while now.
While Wiza has been focused on this run for some time, Bronson Rodgers, freshman in aerospace engineering, first experienced a run of this length on Friday.
"This will be the first time I've run anything this long," Rodgers said prior to the run. "That may seem daunting but running with the rest of the group makes it all worth it."
Rodgers knew he may not be able to make the full 32 miles, but for him and the other cadets that's not what matters most.
"It's a big source of pride for us to be able to come out and do this for the POW/MIA soldiers," Rodgers said.
Being together and honoring POW/MIA Day as a group makes the day more unique, Wiza said.
"It's really motivating having your team with you," Wiza said. "It has a bigger and deeper meaning to do it together."
The cadets set off running together as a block, led by two cadets each carrying flags, one the American flag and one the POW/MIA flag, flanked by escorts.
They run through the Des Moines and Ankeny areas, where often the people passing will stop and recognize what the cadets are doing.
"The first half was awesome," Wiza said after the run. "Some people would stop, put a hand over their heart, and that really motivates you during a run like that."
The group got to the Memorial Union at 3:20 p.m., out of breath and drenched in sweat, finishing the 32 miles in 92 degree heat and a blistering sun.
Captain Daniel Torrence spoke to the cadets in the Gold Star Hall, once they caught their breath.
"Be cognizant of why you did what you all did today," Torrence said.
Iowa State's Air Force ROTC detachment recognizes POW/MIA with their run, but cadets from the detachment stand guard in Gold Star Hall at the Memorial Union during the day.
"Standing guard in Gold Star Hall gives other students a visual to understand what the day means," said Captain James Hamaker, operations flight commander of the detachment.
Wiza said that he took two breaks during the run, to rehydrate and rest, but still ran a marathon length.
"I'm tired," Wiza said. "I'm going to hydrate, ice up and probably go to sleep real early tonight."
This event is organized by the cadets, Hamaker said, in every facet of the planning.
"To see the cadets be independent and bring this important day to fruition is awesome from my end," Hamaker said.
The day, which is nationally recognized, is meant to acknowledge American POW/MIA, and the Air Force ROTC at Iowa State annually chooses to run as their way to honor those soldiers.
"This run is a great representation of [POWs'/MIAs'] sacrifice, it'll never amount to the sacrifice that they gave though," Wize said.