Virginia Beach Commemorates 9/11 With Freedom Walk
By Petty Officer 1st Class Nikki L. Maxwell, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., Sep. 13, 2006 Hundreds of people gathered here on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks to participate in one of seven Freedom Walks throughout the Hampton Roads area to remember victims of the attacks and honor U.S. servicemembers, veterans, police and fire fighters.
Disabled veterans put hands over their hearts during the “posting of the colors” at opening ceremonies for the inaugural Virginia Beach freedom Walk, Sept. 11. The event was organized to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nikki L. Maxwell, USN
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to be here, where we have both the community and members of our military leadership here in Virginia Beach to commemorate Sept. 11 and remind us of the value of our efforts in the military, and how important civilian support is to our success in the global war on terrorism,” said Rear. Adm. Rick Ruehe, commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. “This is my first Freedom Walk because I’ve been stationed in Japan since the 2001 attacks. But no matter where you are, it’s very important to show your support.”
Local television news anchor Joe Flanagan served as master of ceremonies for the event. “At this moment, in the cities of Hampton Roads and elsewhere in the country, men and women just like you are taking time out of their days to come together and with one voice say to these fine people, ‘Thank you. We are aware of what you’re doing, we are aware of what it costs you, and as one nation, we honor you,’” he said.
“As we walk on the boardwalk this evening, let each step we take underscore that awareness and our heartfelt appreciation,” Flanagan told the group. “Let those who we walk for know that the sacrifices they make for our safety, our property and our well-being resonate in our minds and in our hearts.”
Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf said she felt honored to join local military leaders representing every service during the city’s Freedom Walk.
“We are the only area that has made a regional effort to do this and … we are joined by thousands of cities across America,” she said. “Together, with a loud and collective voice, please join me in saying two words: ‘Thank you.’”
The city’s Freedom Walk began at the Virginia Beach King Neptune statue at 31st Street and followed an 18-block round-trip course along the oceanfront. As the official party led the way, hundreds of enthusiastic walkers quickly filled in the gaps on the 30-foot-wide boardwalk.
“We’re out here to support everyone who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001, and also the people who are defending us everyday,” said one walker, Mary Jane White.
Five-year-old Destine Autumn and her mother, Monica, were also among the group. “I just told her yesterday what happened Sept. 11, and when I explained what this was all about, she wanted to come out and do it together,” Monica said. “So here we are to say, ‘We support the troops, we remember the victims and we love them all.’ Right Destine?”
“That’s right mommy,” the little girl responded.
As the sun set on the waterline, the walkers ended their trek with hugs, tears, smiles and music. A male singer delivered an a cappella rendition of God Bless America, and the group joined in. Just as several people began to leave, a lone bagpiper player in full Scottish garb on a hotel balcony overlooking the walk area began to play, filling the night air with the sounds of ”Amazing Grace.”
The crowd stood motionless in the spell, and what began as a day of remembrance became a day none would forget.
(Petty Officer 1st Class Nikki L. Maxwell is assigned to the Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Public Affairs Office.)