By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 7, 2008 - Nearly 10,000 people walked the mile between Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon's South Parking lot here to commemorate the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as part of today's fourth annual National America Supports You Freedom Walk. More than an hour after the walk began, the walkers watched as a well-known country music group took to the stage to perform a musical tribute.
"Did we mention the Oak Ridge Boys are here, and Secretary [Gordon] England, and the Oak Ridge Boys, and cabinet members and the Oak Ridge Boys?" asked Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he addressed the crowd.
Before turning the microphone back over to Fox News Channel Anchor Kelly Wright for the group's formal introduction, Cartwright took a minute to thank a few groups.
He thanked those who are deployed on the nation's behalf for "all of the things that they do, whether in uniform or civilian, to support this nation and serve so that we can get up every day free. Thank you to them."
He went on to include another group: families.
"I'd be remiss if I didn't pick up on one other group, the group that supports us ... so that we can serve, in uniform and as civilians, this nation," he said. "Their contribution should never be forgotten.
"Did I mention the Oak Ridge Boys are coming out?" he joked with the crowd.
Shortly the air was filled with a familiar melody and the crowd's unified voices as the Oak Ridge Boys led them in the national anthem.
The musicians followed that up with their patriotic song, "Colors."
"It's one that's red as the bloodshed, blue as the wounded, white as the crosses on our soldier's graves," they sang as they reached the chorus. "Through the rain, through the sun, these colors never run."
"Now I've seen people treat her like she was some old rag, clueless to the human sacrifice," they sang referring to the flag. "But you'll always find a mother, a widow, a child, a sister or a brother with a carefully folded teardrop in their eyes."
For some, those teardrops weren't necessarily attached to a loved one's passing, just the fear of the possible.
"I was sitting on the balcony of our building at 6th [Street] and Pennsylvania Avenue, watch the planes in the air not knowing if they were ours or if they belonged to a terrorist," said Leeann Hall, as she remembered the Sept. 11, attacks. "My daughter was in school in Arlington, and I could see the planes flying near there. I thought, 'Just stop. Just get away.'"
It's that fear, the thought of what could have happened, that prompted Hall to participate in the walk. "I don't want people ever to forget the terror we felt on that day and the importance of our freedom," she said.
Her daughter, Samantha, now 14, was just in second grade on when terrorists hit the Pentagon.
"I don't really remember, to be honest [what it was like that day,]" she said. "I'm not sure I really grasped what was going on, but now I definitely understand how severe and scary it really was."
Another thing she understands is that the troops need continued support from back home. By participating in the walk with her mother, she showed that. "They're protecting us and their families, and we just really need to appreciate that and how fortunate we are to have people who care," she said.
Regardless of the solemnity of the walk, both mom and daughter were excited to hear the Oak Ridge Boys, and they weren't alone.
Shelley Marshall, with Military Officers Association of America's Scholarship Fund, was elated that the group was performing. "I'm thrilled," she said. "I'm a country fan and ... I think we've got the best seats in town!"
MOAA, as well as 25 other organizations that support America Supports You, were on hand to provide information to the walkers about what the groups do and how individuals can get involved.
The majority of the walkers and all of those representing the troop-support groups enjoyed the Oak Ridge Boys nearly hour-long musical tribute.
America Supports You is a Defense Department program connecting citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home and abroad