Fort Stewart Freedom Walk Sustains Spirit of 9/11
By Pat Young
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT STEWART, Ga., Sep. 11, 2006 Soldiers and families of the 3rd Infantry Division, representatives of Fort Stewart, the city of Hinesville and Liberty County, and more than 1,000 other guests displayed their unity at twilight yesterday to observe the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, with a commemorative Freedom Walk.
Soldiers, civilians, emergency responders and volunteers help set up the site for the Sept. 10 Freedom Walk along Fort Stewart, Ga.'s Warriors Walk. Photo by Pat Young
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The walk was among some 130 Freedom Walks nationwide during the weekend and today to honor the victims of Sept. 11, veterans and servicemembers who continue to sacrifice in the global war on terrorism.
Individuals and groups began their solemn trek on Fort Stewart's Warriors Walk, a grove of memorial eastern redbud trees that honor the post’s 316 soldiers who have given their lives in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Joel Jacobs, who lost his leg in service with the 92nd Engineer Battalion in Iraq, came out to Warriors Walk to support the Freedom Walk.
"I walk Warriors Walk every day," Jacobs said. "It gives you perspective of what you've done and what you're going to do and why you've done it. This represents the sacrifices of not just our soldiers, but our police, fire and emergency responders. It represents the sacrifice that makes our country great. To see people come out and support the event allows us to keep doing what we're doing. It gives it meaning."
Freedom Walk participants came from a cross section of the community that included police officers, firemen, emergency service technicians, soldiers, veterans, civilians and family members.
"This event is special. It commemorates the sacrifices of the first responders to the Sept. 11 tragedy and the subsequent efforts of the military and community members to fight terrorism," said Hinesville Police Sgt. Gerald Morris. “I think after the event, we all came together. It's something that everyone has to be involved in -- not just the soldiers and first responders, but the people, too. We all have to work together against terrorism."
"I was in my fifth-grade class," said Janay Reid, a 15-year-old student and daughter of a police officer, as she recalled that day five years ago. "We were watching the television when the second plane crashed into the (World Trade Center) building. Everyone was scared. The teacher started crying. Many of us did.
“I think this is a great opportunity for everyone to get together and remember what happened -- especially here on Fort Stewart,” she said. “It shows how much everyone cares."
Connie Thrift, vice chairman of the Liberty County Board of Commissioners, and Hinesville Mayor Tom Ratcliffe were among officials who addressed the participants before the Freedom Walk.
Ratcliffe said the 316 Fort Stewart soldiers who lost their lives in service to the country in Iraq were community members, neighbors and friends who would be missed. He reflected back to Sept. 11, 2001, and noted how they shared the same spirit of selfless service and sacrifice displayed by the emergency responders and civilians that day.
"I'm reminded that the (Bible) teaches us that there is no greater love that any man may have that he would choose to lay down his life for his neighbor, for his friend," Ratcliffe said. "I'm reminded that it is that same spirit that brings us here this evening. Tonight's walk helps us draw closer if just for a short time to allow us to reflect on the sacrifices on all who wear the uniform."
Following Ratcliffe, Army Col. Mark McKnight, the 3rd Infantry Division chief of staff and son of a firefighter, told participants he didn't want to forget his vivid memories of Sept. 11.
"Just like my parents’ generation, who will not forget Pearl Harbor, I do not want to forget the events of Sept. 11, 2001," McKnight said. "I will never forget the innocent men, women and children who lost their lives purely for the fact they were Americans.
“I will never forget the families of the Sept. 11 victims,” he said. “They will never know the love of lost fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters.”
McKnight said he’ll also never forget the brave men and women who responded that day, sacrificing their lives and their safety to rescue, save and finally recover their fellow Americans.
And there are others McKnight said he he’ll always remember. “I will never forget the men and women of our armed forces who have fallen in the global war on terrorism,” he said. “I will never forget the men and women of our police, fire and emergency services who stand vigilant and ready every day to protect our homeland.
“And finally,” he said. “I will never forget (that) until the enemies of our country are defeated, they will try again to attack our families, our nation and our way of life."
The sentiments expressed by the guest speakers were echoed throughout the evening by Freedom Walk participants.
"We were happy to help out and participate," said Hinesville Police Chief George Stagmeier. "This event honors first responders and the military alike. It recognizes the sacrifices we've all had to make with the global war on terrorism. I think that if there is one message everyone should take away, it's not to forget the sacrifices we've all made: the people, the first responders and the military."
The solemn event was punctuated with the feeling of patriotism as people carried American flags, shared words of encouragement and listened to echoed calls for remembrance.
"People can probably remember where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001," said Paul Spence, project chairman for the local Vietnam Veterans of America. "I think today will bring a lot of that back. And I think that it's an event that we should never, never forget."
Joining the Vietnam Veterans of America were more than 100 soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, a unit they adopted during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
(Pat Young works in the Fort Stewart, Ga., Public Affairs Office.)