By John J. KruzelAmerican Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2008 – An assembly of thousands gathered this morning at the entrance of Arlington National Cemetery, the starting point of the fourth annual National America Supports You Freedom Walk.
Ending at the Pentagon, where a hijacked airplane killed 184 people when it barreled into the building on Sept. 11, 2001, the Freedom Walk in the nation’s capital is one of 330 similar processions around the world that will take place in all 50 states and 12 foreign countries.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England told the crowd today’s walk not only commemorates the attacks on America that occurred seven years ago this week, but also represents a day for Americans to commit themselves to the preservation of freedom.
“That day we lost 3,000 people of 60 nationalities,” England said. “I’ve concluded that we lost 3,000 people that day because the terrorists did not know how to kill 30,000 or 300,000 or 3 million, but they would have if they could have, and they are still [trying].
“We wake up as a free people every morning, and that’s not by accident, and that’s not by chance,” he continued. “We wake up free every morning because great Americans put who put on the uniform of our country for 230 some years have gone forward to protect and defend those freedoms.”
England thanked servicemembers who protect and defend American liberty, and praised the sacrifices made by their families.
“We have, as a nation, an amazing debt of gratitude to all these people who have given their lives for these many years for our freedoms and for the freedoms of future generations,” he said, drawing applause.
In addition to the Freedom Walk, today represents the beginning of a week of commemorative events, including the dedication of the Pentagon Memorial -- a two-acre park near the point of impact with an illuminated bench and lighted reflecting pool dedicated to each victim -- that will take place on the seventh anniversary of the attack.
Following the opening remarks, columns of walkers wearing Freedom Walk tee shirts headed south, skirting the Potomac River on the opposite bank of American icons like the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, en route to the Defense Department headquarters.
America Supports You, a Defense Department program that connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families, hosted the event, which attracted a reported 10,000 participants, according to Pentagon Channel figures.
The one-mile walk culminated in the south parking lot of the Pentagon, where Marine General James E.
Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the crowd from a raised stage. Cartwright thanked those who participated in the event, which included walkers representing many states across the country, homefront groups manning kiosks in the Pentagon lot and country music performers the Oak Ridge Boys.
“And then a word to those who are not here for all the reasons that there are: deployed forward, sacrifices,” he said. “All of the things that they do, whether they’re in uniform or civilian, to support this nation and serve us so that we can get up every day free.”
Cartwright, citing those around the world participating in Freedom Walks, expressed awe at the evolution of the event. “
When you think that this started four years ago, and now we’re up to 330 of these types of events in which we acknowledge, and America acknowledges, service to this nation: that’s a pretty big thing,” he said.