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America Supports You: Sebring, Ohio, Remembers Sept. 11

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

SEBRING, Ohio, Sept. 12, 2006 – Under a “no rain” proclamation issued earlier in the week by the town’s mayor, Colton Lockner, age 9, led nearly 2,000 people in Sebring, Ohio’s first Freedom Walk yesterday.

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Colton Lockner, 9, and his mother, Robyn Lockner, bow their heads as Pastor James Case offers a prayer during a short ceremony following Sebring, Ohio's first Freedom Walk, Sept. 11. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley

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Mother Nature took heed and altered her rainy forecast so participants could walk from the town’s elementary school to the Sebring Veterans Memorial. Lockner, the walk’s organizer, served as master of ceremonies during the short program at the walk’s culmination to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and honor the nation’s servicemembers.

“We are not on the Mall in Washington or on Times Square in New York City. But we are gathered here in a small village in northeast Ohio,” John Smith, Sebring’s mayor, said during his welcome to the crowd. “We could not be here today if it weren’t for a 9-year-old boy who had a desire to recognize those whose lives were lost five years ago today and those serving today to keep our freedom alive.”

John Boccieri, an Ohio state representative and a major in the Air Force Reserve, echoed Smith’s sentiments.

“As we stand here today on the fifth anniversary of (Sept. 11), … we have to recognize that there are young men and women in uniform for our country who are still out there, who are serving and fighting for our basic freedoms,” he said. “We honor those who have given their lives to protect our freedoms (and) we will never forget the men and women who have died in perhaps our nation’s worst attack.”

Ohio Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Matthew Locker joined the mayor and Boccieri in thanking the crowd for participating. Locker added that he hopes those who thank him every day for wearing the uniform will stop and offer their gratitude to first responders as well.

Sebring’s Freedom Walk was one of more than 130 similar Freedom Walks scheduled in all 50 states between Sept. 9 and yesterday to remember the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to honor the nation’s servicemembers past and present.

The Sebring event and similar observances around the country parallel the Washington, D.C., Freedom Walk that took place Sept. 10 and was sponsored by the Defense Department’s America Supports You program. America Supports You spotlights ways the American public and the corporate sector support the nation’s men and women in uniform. The first America Supports You Freedom Walk was held Sept. 11, 2005, in Washington.

While some in Sebring walked to honor Sept. 11 victims and servicemembers they’d never met, others had more personal reasons for participating.

Loretta Phillips, a psychotherapist and Sebring resident, witnessed the second plane crash into the World Trade Center five years ago while working for Staten Island University Hospital. She said her participation in yesterday’s walk was important for two reasons. It’s to honor “my coworkers and friends that perished in 9/11,” Phillips said, “but (also) our military men and women are serving overseas.”

”They’re getting injured and dying for our country,” she said. “They need to be honored. I think people forget that.”

Although she found it too difficult to remain in New York after the attacks, Phillips continues to counsel families who have lost loved ones in service to the country, as well as families of Sept. 11 victims.

The McVickers, Irma and Mark, walked to honor their son, Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel McVicker. The young Marine had been in Iraq just six weeks when he was killed in Qaim on Oct. 6, 2005, when a roadside bomb hit his Humvee. McVicker was 20 and had joined the Marine Corps because of Sept. 11, his parents said.

“He said, ‘You protected us for my years in school, … now it’s my turn to take care of you guys,’” Mark said, his voice choked with emotion.

The McVickers said they walked yesterday to help keep their son’s memory

“Every opportunity that we have to stand for our son the way he stood for our country is an honor for us,” Irma said. “Any chance we have of having his memory continue, we’ll do it, and we’ll do it very proudly.”

Todd Beamer, the son of two Sebring McKinley High School graduates, Dave and Peggy Beamer, also was honored during the ceremony. Beamer was among the passengers on United Airlines flight 93 that took control of their hijacked plane before it crashed in Shanksville, Pa. Officials believe the plane was headed for another target in Washington until its passengers prevented another tragedy.

The RE/MAX hot air balloon team offered short, tethered rides to Freedom Walk participants, accepting donations for the group Heroic Choices. Formerly known as the Todd M. Beamer Foundation, Heroic Choices is a nonprofit youth-services organization for traumatized children, Lockner told the crowd.

Lockner said he was pleased with the event that he planned after learning about Freedom Walks in his Weekly Reader. He was especially happy about the number of people who participated. “I’m really surprised, because some people who sign up for stuff … don’t really come,” he said. “This time they all did.”

Robyn Lockner, Colton’s mother, was overwhelmed by how the event grew from what she’d thought started as a school project.

“When he first went and presented (his idea) to Pizza Pan (a sponsor), we were guessing 50, 75, 100 people at the most,” she said. But Robyn said she’s “not surprised” that her son organized such a huge event. “That’s just Colton,” she said.

She’ll be more prepared next year, she said, knowing that her son already is thinking about the town’s second Freedom Walk -- one he hopes is bigger and better than this year’s.

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Related Sites:
America Supports You

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageNearly 2,000 people walked in Sebring, Ohio's first Freedom Walk. Colton Lockner, 9, organized the walk after learning about Freedom Walks in his Weekly Reader. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageColton Lockner, 9, talks with Ohio Rep. John Boccieri as the two lead Sebring, Ohio's first Freedom Walk on Sept. 11. Lockner organized the event, which drew about 2,000. Walking with Lockner and Boccieri are the rest of Lockner’s family. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMark and Irma McVicker participated in Sebring, Ohio’s Freedom Walk on Sept. 11 to keep the memory of their son alive. Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel McVicker was killed Oct. 6, 2005, while serving in Iraq. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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