By Elaine Wilson
Special to American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Sept. 12, 2006 – Despite a downpour and half-flooded streets, about 1,200 people braved the rain yesterday to participate in San Antonio’s first Freedom Walk, a 2-mile tribute to the 3,000 victims of Sept. 11, 2001.
The walk, sponsored by Operation Homefront and USAA, was one of more than 130 that took place throughout the nation as a remembrance of Sept. 11 and a tribute to veterans and servicemembers still serving today.
The trek through the soaked, yet still scenic, downtown area offered participants an opportunity to reflect on past tragedies, as well as a few more recent heartbreaks that hit a bit closer to home.
Grace Lopez walked and talked about her son, Army Spc. Lauro Deleon, who died Sept. 8, 2004, while serving in Iraq. “I’m here because I remember 9/11,” said Lopez, wearing a laminated picture of her son and gripping tightly to a soaked banner with the words, “Support Our Troops.” “And, I’m here because there are still people in Iraq we need to remember. I’m walking for every person in uniform.”
Lopez walked alongside her friend Olga Hernandez, who received a call of support just moments before the walk began. “My son called me from Iraq to thank me for supporting the troops,” she said. “And that’s why I’m here.”
Many participants, including those in military uniform, were still attending high school classes when the first plane crashed into the tower Sept. 11 just before 9 a.m., a moment many said changed their lives forever.
“A lot of us here are young and made the decision to join because of 9/11,” said Army Spc. Alison Wilson, one of a dozen soldiers from Company A, 314th Military Intelligence Battalion, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
“Sept. 11 is the main reason I joined,” said Army Pfc. Jason Peterson, who participated with 20 other soldiers from Company A, 377th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Sam Houston.
“I wouldn’t have joined otherwise,” Army Spc. Pawel Kozubek added.
Other participants were barely starting school in 2001. For them, Sept. 11 is a history lesson rather than a memory frozen in time. They walked just the same, some in support of their military parents and others to pay tribute to a national tragedy.
“I’m walking to support our troops,” said 11-year-old Grace Wafford, daughter of 1st Sgt. Dwight Wafford.
“And to remember 9/11,” added Julia Brock, Wafford’s friend and classmate.
Just ahead of the elementary students, students from Cole Jr./Sr. High School at Fort Sam Houston led the way, holding the “Freedom Walk” banner as hundreds of people trailed behind. The steady rain slowed to a drizzle as the procession looped around the Korean War Memorial and headed back to the starting point, the Alamodome.
Senior Keena Fisher was one of the 40 participants from Cole. The daughter of an Army sergeant first class, Fisher said she was grateful for the time to reflect on the past. “This walk gives us time to think about why we’re here,” she said. “Yes, we’re wet, but that’s not important now.”
The attacks that unified the nation and sparked a war have become a defining moment for everyone old enough to remember. For prior generations, the question was, “”Where were you when Kennedy was shot?,'” said Leslie Mouton, a news anchor on local station KSAT-12, just prior to the walk. “For this generation, the question is, “Where were you on 9/11?'”
While answers to that question vary, the response to the attacks must never falter, said Air Force Gen. William Looney III, commander of Air Education and Training Command. “Five years ago our nation was attacked like never before in our history,” Looney said. “And even though they were able to destroy some buildings, they will never, ever be able to destroy the spirit of this great country.