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Thursday, September 14, 2006

America Supports You Freedom Walk(s)

All weekend long, Americans took to the streets in displays of patriotism and unity as America Supports You Freedom Walks stepped off in cities large and small across the country. A final count showed 134 Freedom Walks in all 50 states nationwide. From Anchorage, Alaska to Tampa, Florida, citizens helped establish a new national tradition to remember the families and victims of 9/11 and honor our veterans, past and present, for their service.

In Washington, DC, thousands of walkers gathered at the National Mall for the second annual Freedom Walk to show their support for our troops and observe the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Shanksville, Penn. Volunteers wore white Freedom Walk t-shirts and carried glow sticks as they walked the route from the Mall to the Pentagon, concluding near the crash site and the site of the future Pentagon Memorial.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace kicked off the evening with brief remarks on the significance of the event before leading the walkers up Independence Avenue and across Memorial Bridge. "You and some 130-plus other gatherings like this across all 50 states today are telling our fellow Americans and the world that we do stand together, and we do stand for freedom and we will walk for freedom and we will fight for freedom," said Pace.

Also leading the walk were Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, students from three local schools that lost students and faculty on Flight 77, and more than 400 family and friends of victims who died at the Pentagon. Nancy May, whose daughter Renee was a flight attendant on Flight 77, traveled from Nevada for the Walk. May admitted that she would not ever "find solace" about the events of 9/11, but she called the gathering of Freedom Walk participants reassuring because she "never want[s] it to be forgotten."

Upon arriving at the Pentagon, walkers enjoyed a brief musical tribute from noted opera star Denyce Graves. Graves performed a stirring rendition of "God Bless America" as a memorial display of 184 lights was illuminated from the Pentagon center courtyard. The lights, each representing a life lost at the Pentagon, remained lit throughout Sept. 11 as a vivid reminder of their sacrifice. "I got a bit of goose bumps when the lights came on," said one onlooker of the tribute.

America Supports You's grassroots groups were also out in force for the Freedom Walk. Eighteen groups set up tables at the Pentagon to share their information with walkers as they finished the Freedom Walk. Groups represented included: The American Legion, Armed Services YMCA, Armor 4 Troops Foundation, Defenders of Freedom, Freedom Alliance, Hero Hugs, MarineParents.com, Operation Family Fund, Operation First Response, Operation Helmet, Operation Homefront, Operation Paperback, Packages from Home, Salute Our Services, Sew Much Comfort, Serving Those Who Serve and Treat the Troops.

Elsewhere across the country, groups found their own ways to memorialize the occasion. The first Freedom Walk took place on Sept. 7 at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. as more than 30 of the Range's military and civilian employees gathered for a "3K/5K Freedom Walk." In Aurora, Colorado, America Supports You team member Operation Hope organized hundreds of walkers on Sept. 9 for a full program of activities, including the reading of a letter from President Bush thanking the participants in the Aurora Freedom Walk and praising the nation's service members. Despite the rain, hundreds of people still turned out for Chicago's Freedom Walk on Sept. 10. Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn addressed the gathered walkers and praised the Freedom Walk for providing an opportunity "for people to come together as a community." Virginia Beach, one of seven communities in the Hampton Roads, Va.-area hosting walks on Sept. 11, brought more than 1,200 service members, civic leaders and community members together to construct a human flag during the "Hampton Roads Remembers" ceremony that kicked off the local Freedom Walks.

There were also Freedom Walks happening overseas to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. At Diego Garcia Naval Support Facility in the Indian Ocean, the First Class Petty Officer Association organized a Walk, and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq hosted a Freedom Walk in Baghdad led by Ambassador Zal Khalilzad.

To read all the Freedom Walk coverage, log on to www.AmericaSupportsYou.mil.

Category: (Military) ASY.
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