By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
SEBRING, Ohio, Sept. 12, 2007 – The more than 1,000 people who walked in the second annual Freedom Walk here yesterday did so to remember, reflect and commemorate those who were killed in the terrorist attacks six years ago.
For one family, however, the event held a deeper significance.
“We’re walking to honor the folks that were killed in 9/11 and for my son, Daniel McVicker,” Mark McVicker said during the walk. “He was in the Marine Corps, and he was killed over in al Qaim (Iraq) on Oct. 6, 2005. So we’re here in his honor as well as in remembrance of 9/11.”
Freedom has new meaning for McVicker since the death of his 20-year-old son, who held the rank of lance corporal. It’s one of the most important things Americans have, he said.
“I remember when they told us that he was killed. I remember going through town, and I was so mad because life was going on. I kept thinking, “Why? Don’t you people know my son is dead?'” McVicker said, fighting back tears.
Then, he said, he realized that this was exactly what his son had been fighting for. “We need to value our lives and what is in this country and never take it for granted what this freedom has cost,” he told the crowd at the conclusion of the walk.
Daniel McVicker knew that, said Rick Mirenzi, who also spoke to the crowd. Mirenzi is the president of the Veteran Connection, a Canton, Ohio-based veterans group.
“I remember Mark (McVicker) telling me Danny came in his room one day and said, “I enlisted because I want to protect America,'” he said. “That’s the story that I hear all the time when we talk to Gold Star families (who have lost loved ones in service to their country).”
It’s also the story he wishes terrorist leader Osama bin Laden could hear.
“If I could, ” I would introduce him to 3,600 Gold Star families and ” have him listen to the stories of these sons and daughters who gave their lives, not because they were drafted, but because they stepped up,” he said. “I would take him to (the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.) and introduce him to the thousands of soldiers that come back from Iraq and they’re hurt but they want to get better quickly so they can go back.
“Then I would sit down with bin Laden and I’d look him straight in the eye and say, “That’s why America is what it is. It isn’t about two buildings. It’s the people ” in small cities across this country,” Mirenzi said.
He’d also introduce him to Colton Lockner, 10, who he called the “real deal.” The fifth-grader organized Sebring’s two Freedom Walks. “He gets it,” Mirenzi said.
That’s something Robyn Lockner, Colton’s mom, already knew.
“If you have a veteran’s hat on, he’s coming up to you,” she said of Colton. “If you have a uniform on, he’s coming up to you and he’s going to thank you for your service. It’s just coming from the heart.”
And he comes by that naturally, she said. Both of his grandfathers served in the military. His Uncle Brian, a staff sergeant in the Ohio National Guard, has served two tours in Iraq and will say goodbye to his wife when she deploys in January.
“He’s just used to it,” Robyn said of her son.
But planning something as huge as a Freedom Walk still makes him nervous, Colton said. This year was a bit easier than last, though, because he’d already made all the necessary contacts.
He tackled the project again, first and foremost, out of his deep-seated desire to honor servicemembers past and present and to commemorate the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, but he also had some encouragement.
“A lot of people were saying they hoped I had it again,” Colton said. “I’ve learned to do this every year because people love it.”
It also keeps him grounded to do something that gives so much back to so many, his mother said. Though she added with a laugh that he’s still the same down-to-earth “bratty” child he’s always been.
Colton’s second annual Freedom Walk and the 250-plus walks around the country paralleled the third annual national America Supports You Freedom Walk held in Washington on Sept. 9. America Supports You is a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.