By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2006 – Hundreds of family members who lost loved ones during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks called today's America Supports You Freedom Walk a time to reflect and heal with the comfort of knowing that the nation hasn't forgotten their losses. Many of the family members who joined thousands of others during today's Freedom Walk expressed mixed emotions about the event -- sadness about the event it commemorates, but gratified that it honors their loved ones' memories.
"I don't think I'll ever find solace," admitted Nancy May of Yerington, Nev., who lost her daughter Renee, a flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. But Nancy called today's huge gathering of Freedom Walk participants a reassuring reminder that the events of Sept. 11 still ring clear in people's minds. "I never want it to be forgotten," she said. "It's great to know that so many people are here and to know that they haven't forgotten."
Julie Shontere from LaPlata, Md., came to the Freedom Walk with her family to honor the memory of her 27-year-old daughter, Angie Houtz. Shontere acknowledged that anniversaries of the Sept. 11 attack, particularly the fifth anniversary that's receiving so much media attention, dredge up difficult memories of the day her daughter, an Office of Naval Intelligence worker, was killed in the Pentagon.
Yet, she said, it's also heartwarming to experience the "sense of unity and understanding and the shared compassion" of those participating in the Freedom Walk. "It gives a real sense of unity and a recognition that people really do care and remember," she said.
Several of the family members interviewed said they're pleased that the Freedom Walk honors not just those lost on Sept. 11, but also America's veterans who preserve the freedoms attacked that day.
"It's because of them and what they are doing, that my son did not die in vain," Shiela Flocco, of Wilmington, Del., said of the men and women serving in uniform. Flocco's son, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Flocco, was killed in the Pentagon on Sept. 11.
And while she said it's painful to return to the Pentagon, Flocco said it also makes her feel closer to her son. "It's kind of hard, but when I come, I can feel that his spirit is still there," she said.
Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles "Chic" Burlingame III, the Flight 77 pilot, said she's thrilled that the Freedom Walk embraces servicemembers and veterans as well as those killed Sept. 11.
She praised her brother, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who she said served his country proudly, and wondered aloud at the irony that he was killed when his hijacked plane hit the Pentagon the day before his birthday.
Burlingame said she recognizes the sacrifices U.S. servicemembers have made since the day her brother died and salutes them for helping fight terror.
"This is a fight for the free world," she said. "The least we can do is to walk from the Washington Monument to the Pentagon to show them how much they mean to us and how much we appreciate what they are doing for us."