WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2007) - In the shadow of the Washington Monument and under the watchful eyes of the Abraham Lincoln Memorial, some 10,000 participants gathered at the National Mall here Friday to walk in the third annual America Supports You Freedom Walk.
America Supports You, a Defense Department program that connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families, hosted the event to honor past and present servicemembers and to remember victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In addition to the Freedom Walk here, more than 230 Freedom Walks are being held this year, in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries.
Looking upon the throngs of people gathered on the mall, many of whom donned red, white and blue attire, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, became overwhelmed with emotion.
"I\'m not usually an emotional guy. I'm not a crier," he told American Forces Press Service. "But right now when I'm looking around, I'm crying inside and I'm being truthful with you. I never could be prouder to be American than right now.
"This walk shows that the people in the airplanes, in the World Trade Center towers and in the Pentagon did not die in vain, and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines dying now are not dying in vain," Command Sgt. Maj. Gainey continued. "Don't let this be a one-day walk. Every time you're walking, and you see a veteran or someone you think is a servicemember, stop and thank them."
Speaking to participants who lined the reflecting pool before the walk, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England said America has been blessed with 230 years of freedom and liberty.
"But that is not an unalienable right that we have," Sec. England said. "It is something that needs to be protected and cherished and fought for by every single generation, and we are blessed that we have brave Americans every day that go forth and protect our freedom and liberty and have done so for these 230 years."
Sec. England told the crowd the terrorists, who perpetrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and claimed nearly 3,000 lives, would have inflicted greater harm if possible. Such enemies continue to plot attacks against innocent Americans, he said. "So this is a day of reflection, it's a day of remembrance, but it's also a day of commitment…that we will do whatever we need to do to protect and defend our freedoms and our liberties," he added.
After Sec. England's remarks, thousands of hands made their way over people's hearts when Spc. Vicki Golding, from the Washington National Guard's 457th Army Band, sang a soulful rendition of the National Anthem. Heads bowed in unison as an Army chaplain led the audience in prayer for terrorist attack victims, and servicemembers who have fought and died for their country in past wars and current operations.
"I go back to the Vietnam-era, and to see the support we get from the public now versus what it was in the Vietnam-era is incredible," said Freedom Walk participant Army Col. Wayne Woodard. "For me to see the transition is just unbelievable."
Col. Woodard works as a member of the joint staff, whose office is at the Pentagon where the Freedom Walk concludes. "If I have a chance to contribute to others who are less fortunate than me, in terms of them being away from home and me being home, any time I can show support I view that as a great opportunity," he said.
The Air Force band struck up John Phillip Sousa's "The Washington Post March" as walkers began ambling next to the reflecting pool. The walk route would take participants next to the Lincoln Memorial and over the Memorial Bridge en route to the Pentagon.
For Air Force Capt. Robert Acosta, participating in today's walk helped him preserve the memory of Sept. 11, 2001, victims, and to show support for deployed troops serving abroad.
"When we come together collectively as one, I think it demonstrates not only to our troops overseas, but the rest of the world, that we care," he said. "It's important that we stand together in times like this to really push forward our togetherness."