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Reagan Presidential Library Serves as Freedom Walk Backdrop

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

SIMI VALLEY, Calif., Sept. 12, 2006 – Surrounded by a breathtaking panorama of foothills painted in a variety of hues by warm, late-afternoon sunshine, hundreds of Californians gathered yesterday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library here for Simi Valley’s inaugural Freedom Walk.

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Participants take part in the Freedom Walk at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in Simi Valley, Calif., Sept. 11. Photo by John Banusiewicz
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

It was one of more than 200 such events held in all 50 states over the last three days to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and to honor America’s veterans, past and present.

R. Duke Blackwood, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation, said that he asked his 12-year-old daughter and her friends as he was driving them to school if they knew the significance of the day. They all knew it was the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

“While it is a somber anniversary,” he said, “it is refreshing to know that these young women know about this date and are thinking about it, even learning from it. And that is why we are here today.”

The anniversary, he told the Freedom Walkers, is a time to think about the past and to look toward the future. “Nothing short of our way of life is at stake,” he said. “The enemy will not be easy, but history shows that usually is the case. But history also demonstrates that the American people and our resolve are second to none. We will prevail.”

Blackwood evoked Reagan’s words in summing up a task that remains before the nation: “America has already succeeded where so many other historic attempts of freedom have failed. Already we have made this cherished land the last, best hope of mankind. It is up to us in our generation to carry on the hallowed task. It is up to us, however we may disagree on policies, to work together for progress and humanity so that our grandchildren, when they look back on us, can truly say that we not only preserved the flame of freedom, but cast its warmth and light further than those who came before us.”

U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly noted the anniversary’s solemnity as a day of renewing condolences to the families and friends of the victims and commending the heroes who responded. “That is how it should be,” he said. “Civilized people respect life. We grieve when it’s taken from us. It’s only right that we remember 9/11, its victims and its heroes.”

Though the United States is safer than it was five years ago, he said, it’s still not safe. “And we will not be safe until our enemies are defeated, and totally defeated.” He cited the recently foiled plot to blow up airliners flying from Great Britain to the United States and a new message from al Qaeda released yesterday promising more attacks. “Our enemies are plotting constantly, and we must remain constantly vigilant,” he said.

Calling terrorists “cowardly thugs,” the congressman said that while different views exist on how to fight the war, there’s no disagreement that it must be fought and won. “We’re Americans,” he said. “We do not bow to terrorism. The heroes who died in those four planes and three buildings on 9/11 will never be forgotten.”

Navy Capt. Brad Connors, commanding officer of Naval Base Ventura County, Calif., noted than an old F-14 Tomcat fighter jet is on permanent display on the library grounds as a testament to Reagan’s commitment to fighting terrorism.

In October 1985, Reagan directed two F-14s to intercept an Egyptian airliner and force it to land in Sicily, Connors said. Four passengers aboard the airliner, including infamous terrorist Abu Abbas, were then arrested for their roles in the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of a wheelchair-bound American passenger on the cruise ship.

“A Navy F-14 resides here with honor not because of its warfighting capability, but because it symbolizes President Ronald Reagan’s commitment to fighting terror and promoting freedom,” Connors said. “And through its unconventional use, this war machine illustrated the new U.S. model for dealing with terrorists -- offensive engagement. No more free passes for terrorists.”

Bill Fischer of Simi Valley, a Vietnam veteran, said he and his wife, Diane, came out for the Freedom Walk to show respect. “My grandfather was in World War I and World War II,” he said. “My dad was in World War II; we’re a very patriotic family.”

Another walker, Jan Ward of Simi Valley, proudly wore pictures of her son -- Air Force Reserve Senior Airman Douglas Brock, a Fremont, Calif., police officer in civilian life who recently returned from a deployment to Iraq -- on her shirt. But, she said, she wasn’t walking just to support her son.

“I don’t have just one son now,” she said. “I have a million sons and daughters in the armed forces I worry about every day.”

MilitaryConnection.com, a member organization of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, sponsored the Simi Valley Freedom Walk. America Supports You highlights corporate and grassroots efforts to support American servicemembers and their families. The Simi Valley event was among more than 130 Freedom Walks throughout the United States during the past weekend and yesterday that commemorated the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageParticipants take part in the Freedom Walk at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, in Simi Valley, Calif., Sept. 11. Photo by John Banusiewicz  
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