By Donna Miles, American Forces Press ServiceSeptember 11, 2006
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 11, 2006) - They represented a cross-section of America - thousands of men, women and children of all ages, races and backgrounds from every corner of the country - and came together yesterday during the second annual America Supports You Freedom Walk here to pay tribute to those killed on Sept. 11, 2001.For those hours from when they first assembled on the National Mall until they concluded their two-mile Freedom Walk at a grandstand near the Pentagon crash site, the participants shared a common focus and sense of commitment."Each has their own reason for being here, but they have all joined together at a crucial time for our country," said Joyce Rumsfeld, wife of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as she greeted participants in the Pentagon parking lot."They stand for everything I believe in about this great country," she said. "It's inspiring, and it's gratifying to see them."Before starting the walk, participants waved flags and cheered to the sounds of Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be an American" and applauded Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace's vow that terrorists won't succeed - "not on our watch.""This is important because on Sept. 11, the president said we will never forget, and it's important that we never forget," Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said before beginning the Freedom Walk. "This is about America remembering - not just those killed that day, but the families and heroes who have sacrificed during all the days since Sept. 11.""It's important for us as a nation, because we stand as one against forces that would take away all the things that are important in our lives," said Pentagon Chaplain Col. William Brooke, who read the 23rd Psalm and led a moment of silence and prayer before the walk began.Pace and England led the Freedom Walk participants past the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials before skirting Arlington National Cemetery, washed in the pink light of sunset. As the procession moved toward the Pentagon, gasps arose from the crowd when they caught their first glimpses of a huge, lighted American flag hanging from the side of the building - reminiscent of the flag hung hours after the Sept. 11 attack.As they walked, the participants remembered loved ones, friends and coworkers lost on Sept. 11.Spc. Cindy Davis of Headquarters Company, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was remembering two uncles, both firefighters, who were killed in the World Trade Center.A group of schoolchildren from Washington's Ketcham Elementary School carried a sign honoring their teacher, James Debeuneure, and fellow student Rodney Dickens, who were on American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon."We want to keep their memories alive, and by joining this walk, we're doing something symbolic that will be forever implanted on their minds so they're able to share their experience," said school Principal Joyce Grimes.Len Bourget, a longtime Department of Veterans Affairs employee, walked to remember several people he knew who were killed in the Pentagon. "It's a way to remember in a positive way - not just those who were lost, but also those who survived and are still overcoming the tragedy," he said.As she walked across Memorial Bridge from Washington, D.C., into Virginia, Davis said it's equally important to remember those who have sacrificed since Sept. 11, including her fiance, retired Sgt. Sean Lewis. Lewis lost his lost his leg in January 2004 in Baqubah, Iraq, while serving with the 4th Infantry Division, but wasn't about to let a prosthetic leg stop him from participating in the Freedom Walk. "It hurts a little," he admitted as he kept pace with Davis, "but I want to do this. It's important.""This is a day of remembering all victims of 9/11, and to show support for the guys still in Iraq and Afghanistan and the mission they're doing," Davis said.Master Sgt. Darren Hayes and his wife, Veronica, said they joined the Freedom Walk to show support for America's military and the cause its members are fighting for. "This is to show that we'll never forget what happened," Darre said. "It's something we can't ever lose sight of."Some participants in the Freedom Walk, like Lisa Krautkramer and Jeanette Wischhoefer from the Seattle area, had less direct ties to the Sept. 11 attacks but wanted to be a part of remembering it nonetheless.When they heard about the Freedom Walk while touring Washington, the women said they jumped at the opportunity to join in. "It's a way to show people it hasn't been forgotten," Wischhoefer said. "It's a way of coming together and remembering."Once at the Pentagon, the Freedom Walk participants listened to mezzo-soprano Denyse Graves and watched a dramatic show as 184 lights - one for each person killed in the Pentagon attack - lit up the night sky.England thanked the participants for their "great patriotism and for what you do every day for America."He reiterated the importance of the Freedom Walk as a way to remember the events of Sept. 11."On 9-11, the president said 'Never forget,'" England told the crowd. And America will never forget that day - what happened, those lost or all the heroes "who have given so much to protect and defend this great country," he said."I thank you for what you do," England concluded. "And I thank you for never forgetting."