By Michael E. Ruane and Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, September 10, 2007
Margaret Young walked for her son, Edmond, who was killed in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, at the age of 22.
Retired Army Sgt. Sean Lewis walked on his artificial right leg, which replaced the limb he lost to an enemy mortar in Iraq three years ago.
And Ray "The Flag Man" DeFrees walked with the $5 American flag he bought in a supermarket after Sept. 11. He has padded the staff with insulation and loves to let others feel what it's like to carry the Stars and Stripes.
They were among thousands of marchers who joined the Defense Department's third annual America Supports You Freedom Walk yesterday, held to remember the victims of Sept. 11 and to honor those in uniform.
The participants, most wearing special white "Freedom Walk" T-shirts, assembled at the Lincoln Memorial and stepped off to the strains of a John Philip Sousa march at 9:15 a.m. for the mile-and-a-half walk to the Pentagon.
The event was one of two scheduled locally to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Later in the day, about 800 people strolled down the sidewalk on the northeast side of Massachusetts Avenue NW for the 9/11 Unity Walk, an annual effort by more than 100 churches, temples, synagogues and embassies to recall what the program said was "the spirit of togetherness" that grew from the attacks. It was coordinated by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.
Many unity walkers wore bright green T-shirts as they went from the Washington Hebrew Congregation, paused at the Islamic Center and wound up at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial at Massachusetts Avenue and 21st Street NW.
"We are displaying unity to spread the message of peace," said Ragha Raghavan, a retired banker and member of the Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples.
"As you walk, please talk," the program advised. "Allow your dialogue to open avenues within yourself and with others."
One hundred eighty-four people died at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, not including five terrorists who were aboard hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 when it was flown into the building: 125 died inside, and 59 passengers and crew members were killed on the airliner.
The marches were held under bright, sunny skies but in hot and humid walking weather.
The Pentagon rally, with a helicopter circling overhead, took participants from the Mall, over Memorial Bridge and past its monumental bronze statues, Valor and Sacrifice.
Near the front, in a wheelchair, was Army Capt. Kent Solheim, 34, of Oregon City, Ore., who is recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from four wounds he suffered in July in a firefight in Iraq.
He said he was "glad to be alive" and gratified to be present. "It's an important event," he said. "We need to remember. We can't forget this stuff. It needs to happen annually, so our kids don't forget this stuff either."
DeFrees, 65, a.k.a. the Flag Man, a retired real estate appraiser from Fairfax, marched in a red T-shirt with "RAY" on the back. He said he carries his banner to lots of public events. He said he often hands it to people and says, "Hey, would you like to carry the flag?" But some ask him: "Ray, may I carry the flag?" Sure, he says, but don't run off with it.
"This, in my opinion, is probably the most shared flag in America," he said.
Sean Lewis, 23, of Dale City retired from the Army last year after being wounded in Iraq on Jan. 21, 2004. "I got hit by a mortar," he said as he strode, smoking a cigarette, toward the Pentagon yesterday. This was his second time on the walk. He said the turnout made him glad.
"It shows a lot of support for what happened on 9/11, and in my opinion, support for the military," he said. "I like that. Obviously."
Young, 59, of Owings wore a button bearing a photo of her dead son, Edmond.
She was there with, among others, two daughters and two grandsons. "We have to keep on pushing on," she said. "This time of the year, we just reflect on his memories, the good things, not the bad things . . . but it's like 9/11 all over again. When you do things like this, you just remember that day."
"You move forward," she said. "But when that day comes, it's just like you're back there again. . . . But by the grace of God, we will move on."
Danita McCain of Greenbelt was a student at Morgan State University at the time of the attacks. Now a Commerce Department employee, she brought her two sisters and a friend on the walk. At the Pentagon, they toured the construction site of the memorial to the victims and listened to a musical tribute in the building's south parking lot.
McCain said she was not used to walking that far in such heat, "but I wanted to see the actual site."
Air Force Maj. Mike Edinger and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joana Garcia walked with their children, Kyle, 2, and Kurt, 4, who rode in a red plastic wagon.
Edinger, 38, of Arlington County, was at the Pentagon the morning of the attack. He said he was outside the building and saw "a big freaking airplane flying in the wrong place, really low.
"Where I was, just before impact, it disappeared behind the corner of the building," he said, "and then [came] the fireball, and [I was] close enough to feel the heat washing over and the smell of jet fuel forever in my nose."
"I think we've moved on," he said. "Some of that's good. You've got to heal your wounds . . . but I guess that's why it's good to turn out for events like this, because it keeps it alive in people's memories and [makes] sure we don't forget."