By Monique Reuben
WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2006 – Eighteen cities and counties in Virginia's Hampton Roads region are planning Freedom Walks to commemorate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and show support for veterans past and present. Inspired by the 2005 America Supports You Freedom Walk, in Washington, D.C., Hampton Roads and several other cities nationwide are planning their own Freedom Walks, marking the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11.
Each Freedom Walk will conclude with a ceremony, featuring speeches from local officials and patriotic music. Organizers of the walks say they anticipate 500 to 1,000 people will participate in each walk. Carlos Clanton, executive director of the Norfolk division of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, said the Sept. 11 attacks unified this country. ""It had nothing to do with color or political position," he said. "We came united as one people."
The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce is one of many sponsors of this regional effort. The Navy League, WalMart and The Virginian-Pilot newspaper are others. Clanton, a resident of Norfolk, said the walks will not only honor the victims of Sept. 11, but also will allow people in the community to show their support for military servicemembers.
"Coming out and just walking and being present is going to speak volumes and let them (servicemembers) know that back here we appreciate what they're doing," he said. Bob Batcher, Norfolk Freedom Walk project manager, said he a recent visit to Ground Zero in New York reminded him of the importance of events like this.
"I think it's time for people to step up and say we're a unified country. I harken for the day where spontaneity meant putting a flag on your car. I want us to remember five years ago, when you couldn't buy a flag because so many people were buying them," he said. Pam Brandon, project manager for the Hampton Freedom Walk, said the event will include a laser show or fireworks display. "We're still in some planning stages. We're very excited, and we're beginning to make announcements to the public. We're just hoping for a great turnout," she said.
Batcher said he hopes Americans will come out and join members of their community to honor Sept. 11 victims and show that the country is still united. "It's too easy to sit in the living room and watch a documentary. There's too many men and women out there who are not taking the easy route to make sure that we've got a documentary to watch," he said. "We just want to challenge our community to show their colors."