Country Musicians Honor Troops at End of ASY Freedom Walk
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 11, 2005 The image at the "America Supports You Freedom Walk" musical tribute on the National Mall today was a sea of patriotic red, white and blue from the design of the T-shirts the walkers had received at the Pentagon earlier in the day.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld joins Clint Black on stage at the America Supports You Freedom Walk concert, Sept. 11, 2005, on the National Mall in Washington. Photo by John Harrington
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
"The troops need to know that the men and women of the United States are behind them, that they have full support without reservation. It's an example of a country assembling, exercising the First Amendment of the Constitution," Jonathan B. Perlin, a Veterans Affairs undersecretary for health, said as he ended the walk at the JFK Hockey Field concert site on mall with son, 11, and daughter, 7.
"We passed protesters today," he observed. "Though this group obviously doesn't agree with (today's) message, the fact that they can carry that message in freedom is really important proof to the troops of the importance of their mission."
As the thousands of walkers poured onto the field from the walk route, they were ready to settle in for a good musical time, courtesy of the America Supports You program and country musicians.
Opening act Little Big Town got the crowd into the swing of things. The group's half-hour set ended with its newest hit, "Boondocks." Then members expressed their appreciation for the troops and what they're doing overseas.
They had visited servicemembers in Afghanistan Thanksgiving 2004 and said the troops won their hearts. They said they hope for an opportunity to visit troops in Iraq in the near future.
Then came superstar Clint Black. During the country musician's set, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took the stage to address the walkers-turned-concertgoers. He thanked them for their participation and evoked cheers when he told them he had thought long and hard, but decided not to sing.
"Country music is an important part of our country and the troops love it and so do I," he said. "This is the first march for freedom and looking at the size of this crowd, I suspect it won't be the last one. I want to thank all of you for being here. I ... want to thank all of you for being here and for your support of freedom and your support of our country. May God bless our wonderful country."
The secretary spoke about the importance of remembrance and reflected on the fact it had been 42 years since he walked across the Memorial Bridge. And that was in 1963, when as a young congressman, he had walked the bridge in the opposite direction during John F. Kennedy's funeral procession to Arlington National Cemetery.
Black, like the defense secretary, didn't disappoint the audience. He pulled out some new tunes, starting with "Drinkin' Songs and Other Logic," and mixed in some old numbers, including "No Time to Kill" and "Put Yourself in My Shoes."
For 90 minutes, the singer/songwriter entertained the group, plus U.S. servicemembers in 177 countries who were seeing the concert live via the Pentagon Channel.
But fun aside, Black acknowledged that this was a serious occasion commemorating the events and victims of Sept. 11.
"As we mourn our losses, we also celebrate the lives of those who responded then and now by putting on the uniform in our defense," he said.
"We know who the good guys are," he noted. "They are our heroes the moment they signed on the dotted line and put on the uniforms whether it's in our military or those in homeland security.
"We have a new song dedicated to them," he continued. "It uses words like 'heroes' and 'good guys.' And let there be no mistaking, they are our good guys and we wish them godspeed in getting to the bad guys. It's the 'Code of the West.'"
Concert attendee John Wroblewski of Jefferson Township, N.J., said the artists' performance reinforced America's support of its troops at home and abroad.
"(It) says so much for their generosity, for their patriotism and for how much they're devoted to this country ... that gave so much to them, that they feel that they have to give back," Wroblewski, a big Clint Black fan, said.
He and his wife, Shawn, feel a common bond with the families of Sept. 11 victims and felt they needed to participate. Their son, Marine 2nd Lt. John Thomas Wroblewski, died in Iraq in April 2004. He had joined after the Sept. 11 attacks after talking it over with his wife.
Wroblewski said his son wanted the world to be a safer place for his children, though he had none, yet he did help make the world a safer place through his service to his country.
Killed near Ramadi, Iraq, while commander of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, the lieutenant is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His parents visited his gravesite before the walk and planned to return for one last visit after the concert before heading home to New Jersey.
As Black wrapped up his performance, he summed up what the entire crowd had expressed by merely participating in the walk.
"To our troops all around the world: We Support You!"
(AFPS writer Steven Donald Smith contributed to this article.)