FORT BRAGG, N.C. - As the sun dipped below the cloudy horizon, Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue, XVIII Airborne Corps Commanding General, purposefully took the first step of the Sunset Liberty March, honoring the legacies of all who have served the installation and marking the unwavering need to move into the future, June 1.
The daily Sunset Liberty March honors the legacy of liberty built by the many men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and honors veterans, past, present, and future.
The ceremony kicked off as Donahue invited two Gold Star Mothers, Maureen Miller, who was there to represent her son, Staff Sgt. Robert Miller and Patti Elliott, who was there to represent her son, Spc. Daniel Lucas Elliott, to the front, to thank them for the honor of their presence at the first Sunset Liberty March.
"The history of this walk really starts with the base redesignation," said Donahue as he addressed the crowd gathered to participate in the initial march. "The community was given the mission to redesignate this base to make this a better fort. The community got together, and as they went through the process, many names were considered."
Several deserving Soldiers were considered, added Donahue, noting their commendable accomplishments and achievements, which the local redesignation meeting members discussed.
"The Gold Star Mother made us talk about the right things," continued Donahue. "Not about organizations, not about what community they came from, but what about we're about. What people from this post go and do. It was about what was right."
As Donahue continued to explain how the chosen name, Fort Liberty, came about, those in the crowd listened intently while the two Gold Star Mothers listened and supported each other.
"So, what this walk is about is paying back to her, to this community," explained Donahue. "On Memorial Day I always feel a little hollow. We always say we're going to remember every day. But I know I don't. This is about our ability to remember every day."
After the ceremony, the crowd gathered and waited for sunset to arrive.
"It's humbling to be here, to be part of this," said Elliott. "To know, all the thousands of Soldiers who have come through here and shaped the Army and made it what it is today. And all the thousands more who are going to come after them and are going to be the legacy of Fort Liberty. It's just an awesome experience to be here."
Then as the sun set below the horizon and with Donahue in the lead, the crowd began its march. The importance of this moment is reflected in the eyes of the veterans and other attendees and felt in the air as the group quietly moved forward.
The sound of the footsteps halted as the group reached the trail's end and looked to the flag, high atop the flagpole. Donahue paused momentarily and rendered honors in front of the flag, concluding the first of many marches. Several attendees followed suit, each taking the time to render honors after the march.
Then slowly, the marchers quietly started on their way back down the trail.
"It was an honor to be out here and experience the first Sunset Liberty March," said Col. John Wilcox, Fort Bragg garrison commander. "This march is a permanent reminder of our installation's history and the sacrifices of all who have served, especially as we redesignate to Fort Liberty tomorrow."
The trail is lined with 39 historic informational signs specific to the installation and ends at a flagpole. The plans for the trail will eventually see the metal signs replaced with historical markers, lights illuminating in sync with the Liberty Marcher, and a proposed monument at the end of the trail.
"For the garrison, we took this mission on with our whole heart," continued Wilcox. "We recognized the importance of honoring those who preceded us and those who will serve in a way that's befitting of all. Today's march was just the starting point to a great future."
To learn more about the Sunset Liberty March or to sign-up to be the Liberty Marcher go to https://sunsetlibertymarch.com.