America Supports You: Colorado Freedom Walk Honors 9/11 Victims, Veterans
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
AURORA, Colo., Sept. 9, 2006 Hundreds of Coloradoans stepped out from the site of the state’s future veterans memorial this morning and walked a mile and a half to the Aurora Municipal Center here to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to honor the nation’s past and present veterans.
Walkers in the Sept. 9 Freedom Walk in Aurora, Colo., show their patriotism. Photo by John D. Banusiewicz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Aurora/Denver Freedom Walk is one of more than 120 similar events taking place in all 50 states today, tomorrow and Sept. 11. The local events parallel the Freedom Walk scheduled tomorrow evening in the nation’s capital under the auspices of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program.
Leo Pacheco, executive director for the Beacon of Hope Outreach Center, which is sponsoring Aurora's Freedom Walk through its America Supports You-affiliated Operation Hope program, said the forecasted rain may have kept some people away from this, the first event of its kind here, but that the weather could do nothing to dampen the purpose of the event.
“This is Colorado’s contribution to commemorate 9/11, to honor our first responders, and to support the troops,” he said, noting that sponsors for next year’s Freedom Walk already are lined up.
A cloudburst began just as an Army vocal group, “Harmony in Motion” kicked off this afternoon’s companion observance at the Municipal Center. “I’ve had people come up to me today and say, ‘Right now, there are servicemen and women over in Iraq who would love to have rain.’ So they’re here, and they’re going to stick it through on behalf of our servicemembers,” Pacheco said.
One walker said she came out because that’s how she was brought up.
“My father served in Vietnam, and my whole family has always been very patriotic,” said Jill Stevenson, of Centennial, Colo. “Since Sept. 11, he’s flown his flag every single day. I have friends who have served in Iraq, and I lost a friend in Iraq, so I’m here to support the soldiers. My whole life, I was always taught that if you saw a soldier, you should walk up to him and shake his hand and thank him for serving his country.”
The cloudburst gave way to bright sunshine as Fairfax County (Va.) Fire Department Battalion Chief John Everett told the audience his story of responding to the attack on the Pentagon and said observances like this are important to help Americans remember why they’re at war and pull together to defeat terrorism.
“When we become divided, the terrorists win, because we start fighting each other and not fighting them,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Paul Brondhaver, an Ohio Army National Guardsman from Cincinnati who suffered more than 300 shrapnel wounds in a rocket-propelled-grenade attack in Samarra, Iraq, in July 2004, told the Aurora audience why he came to join them in today’s Freedom Walk.
“Every step I took today I dedicated to those civilians of 9/11, the firefighters, the policemen and our troops,” he said. “(I dedicated) every step for those who can’t be here. I speak with honor, duty, respect, selfless service and loyalty.” He thanked the nation’s veterans from all services from all the nation’s wars.
“To the World War II and Korea veterans: thank you for allowing me to be born in freedom. If you’re a Vietnam veteran, I want to welcome you home,” Brondhaver said.
The Ohio Guardsman told the audience that everyone present at today’s event had something in common when they raised their heads from their pillows this morning. “Every single one of us, when we raised up our head, were in the United States of America,” he said. “We wake up into freedom every single day.”
Brondhaver said his near-death experience in Iraq has opened the way for him to travel the country to remind Americans that faith, family and friends can help anyone overcome any situation. He came to that realization, he said, as he lay on a street in Samarra, fully expecting to die as his thoughts turned to his family.
“Faith got me here to the state of Colorado to walk, when they said I would never walk again,” he said. By sharing his story, he told the audience, he is “living a promise” to God that he made on that miserably hot day as he lay bleeding -- a promise that he would spend his life in God’s service if he could see his family again.
He challenged those in attendance to carry the Freedom Walk’s message forward in the community to their friends and neighbors who weren’t able to make it. “I want to challenge you to let everybody know how important it is to honor our fallen, and to honor those who are here today and those who are at Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) recovering, and those military personnel who are across the street in this great city,” he said. “Every day we need to never forget. Every day we need to honor those who have paid everything dearly.”
Choking back tears, he noted the sacrifices that families of military personnel must make. “It was easy for me as a soldier to go over there and do my job, compared to what my wife and my family had to go through,” he said. “So thank you, family members. And thank you America for your prayers.”
Brondhaver noted that some people’s names are well known from news accounts of their opposition to the war, but that no one seems to know the name of a member of his home church whose name they should know.
“His name is Pfc. Matt Maupin. He’s from Cincinnati, Ohio. He was captured in Iraq on April 9, 2004. He’s a staff sergeant now, and he’s still in captivity,” Brondhaver said, asking the audience to keep Maupin in their thoughts and prayers. Brondhaver told the audience he speaks with Maupin’s family weekly.
“His father said he served with honor, and he’s serving today with honor,” he said. “I want you to make Matt Maupin a household name. And if you pray, pray. And if you don’t pray, think about him and keep that hope alive.”
Pacheco read a letter from President Bush, thanking the participants in the Aurora Freedom Walk and praising the nation’s servicemembers. The letter read, in part:
“The volunteers of our armed forces are unrelenting in battle, unwavering in loyalty, and unmatched in honor and decency. Today they are taking great risks to advance peace and freedom around the world. Their courage and dedication help secure our nation and reflect the best qualities of America. Our country is proud of their service, and as we prepare to observe the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, we underscore our commitment to win the war on terror and lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.
“I appreciate those participating in Freedom Walk, and all who support our men and women in uniform. Your efforts help express our gratitude to our nation’s heroes and their families.”