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Remembering 9/11

Communities come together for annual Freedom Walks to commemorate Sept. 11

By Caitlin Wardlow | September 2 , 2008
Walkers in the 2006 Freedom Walk in Killeen, Texas. (Photo courtesy Olga Vaca Durr)
Walkers in the 2006 Freedom Walk in Killeen, Texas. (Photo courtesy Olga Vaca Durr)

Freedom Walks are organized walks that take place throughout the country to remember a tragic event in U.S. history: the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At first, I didn't know what freedom walks were or that they even existed. But after talking with a couple of people who are involved with the program, I quickly learned that the walks are a special and important way to remember the lives that were lost on Sept. 11.

The America Supports You Freedom Walks program is entering its fourth year. Department of Defense employees came up with the idea for the first Freedom Walk, Allison Barber, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Internal Communications and Public Liaison, told me. The first Freedom Walk was a way for Defense Department employees to remember the lives of coworkers who died when terrorists crashed an airplane into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

When the Freedom Walk program began, there was only that one walk in Washington. The next year, there was at least one walk in every state. In 2007, the program grew to include 255 walks across the country. Now, in its fourth year, the Freedom Walks remember all the victims of Sept. 11.

Participants in the Washington, D.C., walk this year will include members of the President's cabinet. But since the walk is all about being a community event, there won't be any speeches.

A community that has put a lot of effort into the Freedom Walks program is Killeen, Texas. Killeen is a military community where nearly every child has at least one parent on active duty.

The entire school district of Killeen, which consists of 50 schools and 39,000 students, participates in the Freedom Walks. Each school has its own event that leads up to a combined community event where battalions of soldiers, first-responders, and school and community leaders participate in a one-mile walk.

Olga Vaca Durr is the coordinator for Parent Community Involvement in Killeen and the organizer of all their Freedom Walk events. She told me that they have expanded the program; while it used to remember just the victims of Sept. 11 it now honors Americantroops too. Killeen has put up a Heroes Wall, with pictures of kids next to parents who are serving. The community also has an "Adopt a School" program, where soldiers from the local military base "adopt" a school and volunteer there throughout the school year.

I asked Mrs. Vaca Durr what tips she had for kids who might want to start a Freedom Walk in their own town. She says you should invite a lot of people to get involved and draw lots of publicity so people in the community know about your event.

"If you want to organize a Freedom Walk in your community, you should not only focus on 9/11 but also on the freedom that our troops give us every day," Mrs. Vaca Durr says.

This Sept. 11, to commemorate the victims of the tragedy, the Department of Defense plans to open a 9/11 memorial exactly where the plane hit the Pentagon. Ms. Barber told me that the Department of Defense is grateful that so many kids participate in the America Supports You programs.

"By participating in Freedom Walks, it is a moment in time where our country comes together to send a message to the 3,000-plus families who lost someone on Sept. 11: that we as a country have not forgotten them," Ms. Barber says. "The walk is a movement, and it shows that we move forward shoulder to shoulder as a country."

For more information on Freedom Walks, or any of the more than 400 programs supported by the Department of Defense America Supports You program, visit www.americasupportsyou.mil.

Read about two kids who have started Freedom Walks in their communities in the America Supports You Freedom Walks Special Report!

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