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Oklahomans Remember 9/11, Murrah Bombing Through Freedom Walk

By 1st Lt. Geoff Legler, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

OKLAHOMA CITY, Sept. 12, 2006 – With the sun hanging low in the western sky yesterday, Oklahomans of all ages assembled at the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial.

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The Oklahoma National Guard color guard presents the colors during the national anthem. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James, USA

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They came to this sacred ground to remember those who lost their lives to terrorism.

They came on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to participate in the Oklahoma City Freedom Walk, a commemorative event about remembrance of the Sept. 11 victims, reflection on the tragedy of that day, recommitment to the ideals of freedom that epitomize the United States its promise to “never forget,” and respect and support for the many American men and women in uniform past and present who protect our freedom.

The 145th Army Band played for the crowd as the delegation of dignitaries, including Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and his wife, Kim; former Gov. Frank Keating and his wife, Kathy; and Oklahoma Army National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Petty took the stage.

As the dignitaries took their seats, many of the Freedom Walkers were visibly shaken while recalling the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people here and the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The events of 9/11 forever changed the nation, but certainly it was not the first instance of America responding to the evils of terrorism,” Henry said. “On April 19, 1995, Oklahoma and the rest of the nation learned a grim lesson that terror can strike anywhere and at anytime. In light of the link between Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C., and April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City, it is only fitting that the Freedom Walk begins from the Oklahoma City National Memorial.

"The Freedom Walk gives Oklahomans an opportunity to demonstrate their solidarity and honor the victims of terrorism, as well as the military troops, police and firefighters involved in the ongoing mission to keep the American people safe and secure,” he continued. “The Freedom Walk sends a simple but powerful and eloquent message: The United States stands together and strong, and we will not be cowered by terrorism."

Keating, who was Oklahoma governor at the time of the Murrah Building attack, also spoke at the event. “We are one people; we care for one another; we defend one another; we love one another; and we will not tolerate the destruction of innocent human life for any purpose,” he said.

Following Keating’s comments, the crowd sang “God Bless America” as four F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Oklahoma Air National Guard’s 138th Fighter Wing flew by. As the jets flew over the horizon, a large American flag was unfurled from the roof of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum.

Many felt Chief Warrant Officer Petty, whose son died in Iraq, was the most inspiring and touching speaker of the night. He spoke about what his son, Army Staff Sgt. Eric Petty, saw during the 57 weeks he served in Iraq before being killed.

Petty detailed how his son and the squad he led saw signs of progress in Iraq. “We have done something here in Iraq that has given the people of Iraq a very small taste of what we have in America,” Petty said his son once told him. He said his son also told him that Iraqis would come out of their homes and thank the soldiers for what they had done.

“We are doing good things in Iraq, and my son was one of the soldiers who made a difference,” Petty said.

After the ceremony, the dignitaries led the crowd through the east gate of the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial and onto Robinson Avenue. Behind them were the Oklahoma National Guard color guard, cadets from the Thunderbird Youth Academy and hundreds of Oklahoma Guardsmen and their families. Members of the community fell in behind the Guardsmen, and the line of walkers stretched for more than half a mile.

As Oklahoma Army National Guard Pfc. Jessica Watkins walked through downtown Oklahoma City with her fellow Guardsmen, she remembered the attack on the World Trade Center five years ago. “I wanted to come out as part of the community and do my part,” said Watkins, who returned from basic training only two months ago.

Even though she is a new soldier, Watkins said she understands her duty to her country. “I’ll do what I am called upon to do,” she said, adding that she was “absolutely inspired” by the day’s events.

At the walk’s end at the Bricktown Events Center, walkers were greeted by numerous well-wishers and entertained by local band “The Great Divide” and singer Luke Strickland.

“This Freedom Walk demonstrates the resolve of the United States and its citizens to fight terrorism wherever it may exist,” Oklahoma’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt, said at the end of the event. “As Oklahomans, we have all had to deal with the pain and grief that an act of terror leaves behind, but as we fight to protect the American way of life, we must never forget those who have died both at home and abroad in the name of freedom.”

(Army 1st Lt. Geoff Legler is assigned to the Oklahoma Army National Guard Office of Public Affairs.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageOklahoma Governor Brad Henry speaks at the opening of the Oklahoma City Freedom Walk Sept. 11. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMembers of the United States Navy station at Tinker AFB, Okla., carry the freedom walk banner. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James, USA  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe Oklahoma National Guard color guard leads the freedom walk as the approach two Oklahoma City ladder trucks supporting a large American flag. All the freedom walkers passed under the flag. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James, USA   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageChief Warrant Officer Ronald Petty, a full-time Oklahoma Army National Guardsman, speaks to the crowd about his son’s experiences as a soldier in Iraq. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James, USA  
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