By Sharon Foster
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 8, 2008 - Close to 200 people, from college students to police officers, walked nearly a mile yesterday in Orange, Calif., to honor all the lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. Shauna Fleming, 19, founder of the nonprofit group "A Million Thanks" - a home-front group of the Defense Department's America Supports You program - was the event director and organizer.
Fleming said that while she had hoped for 500 participants for her first local Freedom Walk, she was not disappointed by the enthusiastic response she received when she welcomed the crowd at the steps of Chapman University's Memorial Hall, where the walk ended.
"I was not sure how many would take part, since we didn't do any kind of pre-registration," Fleming said. "But when I saw the scout groups, mothers carrying handmade quilts and families wearing red assembling at Hart Park, I knew this is something that we need to do each year. It's important to remember 9/11."
The Orange Freedom Walk was the first in what Fleming said will become an annual rally in the city to honor all the victims of the attacks.
Speakers for the event included Army Spc. Ricky Abitu of the Army Reserve's 314th Military Police Company. Abitu and two other soldiers from his unit came specifically to thank people for their support while being deployed to Iraq for a year.
Mayor Carolyn Cavecche also addressed the crowd and read a letter from State Assemblyman Todd Spitzer about his thoughts on the events of Sept. 11. Spitzer and Cavecche commended the crowd for continuing to remind people that "we must not forget the thousands who perished in terrorist attacks on American soil."
Army Brig. Gen. James P. Combs told the crowd about his experiences fighting in Vietnam and the role he has played since Sept. 11.
Combs reminded the crowd, which applauded numerous times during his speech, that, "our Military men and women are doing great things overseas to try to prevent another attack on the U.S." He also read a letter President Bush sent to Fleming, commending the people of Orange for participating in the Freedom Walk.
Pastor Chris Singer of St. John's Church opened and closed the event with moving prayers and a candle-lighting memorial. Matt Hall, a walk participant, sang "America the Beautiful."
The Freedom Walk in Orange is one of many local walks taking place across the country this week to reflect on the sacrifices of Sept. 11 and to express appreciation for the men and women who volunteer to serve in the Military. Thousands participated in yesterday's National Freedom Walk in the nation's capital.
The Freedom Walks mark the beginning of a week of commemorative events leading up to the Sept. 11 dedication of the Pentagon Memorial – two acres with an illuminated sculpture and lighted reflecting pool dedicated to each victim.