FORT HOOD, Texas – Twelve years ago, the United States was attacked by terrorists. The World Trade Center in New York City was destroyed, thousands lost their lives, and millions more were forever impacted by this travesty.
Twelve years later, soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment, 41st Fires Brigade and students at Manor Middle School, most of whom were barely able to walk at the time of the attack, took time to honor those who were lost Sept. 11, 2001.
Students, faculty, soldiers, local law enforcement and volunteers from the local Armed Services YMCA participated in Manor Middle School’s second annual Freedom Walk in Killeen, Texas, Sept. 10.
“In Texas, the week of Sept. 11 is Celebrate Freedom Week. We celebrate not just our first responders, our soldiers and our veterans, but we also take some time to remember Sept. 11,” said Danielle Tucker, the curriculum and instruction specialist at Manor Middle School.
“We have formed a tradition of having a pep rally to celebrate our first responders, our soldiers and especially our adopt-a-school unit,” said Tucker, “then we go on a walk, and we let our community know that we’re celebrating our soldiers.”
At this year’s pep rally, Lt. Col. Kenneth McDaniel, commander of the 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment gave the key note speech.
He spoke to the amassed crowd of more than 650 middle schoolers about what it means to be free and about taking advantage of the opportunities available here in the U.S.
“I challenge that the best way to honor those who sacrificed to protect your freedoms is to take full advantage of the opportunities this country provides you,” said McDaniel. “What you do with your freedom is only limited by your imagination.”
Jennifer Washington is the principal at Manor Middle School, and she is committed to ensuring her students understand exactly what it means to be free.
“I believe that Lt. Col. McDaniel gave a wonderful speech today,” said Washington. “He reminded our students that they can do anything in this world they aspire to do, and he’s absolutely right. But he also reminded us that service to the country is something that provides all of us with the same opportunities.”
For Washington, the Freedom Walk is not only a symbolic gesture of remembrance for those who lost their lives Sept. 11, but as a poignant learning lesson for her students: freedom is not free.
“Freedom comes with a heavy price tag, and this is just a small token of our appreciation to our first responders, our military soldiers and everyone else who defends our freedoms on a daily basis,” she said.” I think it’s important that our students know that the things they take for granted … come with a price tag.”
The actual walk itself was fairly short, about a mile and a half in length. But the impact of the walk was felt far beyond W.S. Young street in downtown Killeen.
Children held patriotic signs and hand-crafted flags. The school’s cheer team could be heard for blocks as they chanted, “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Soldiers, faculty, students and community members walked side-by-side down the road as passing traffic honked their horns and waved their support.
Antionette Wiggins is the Armed Services YMCA Child Care director in Killeen, Texas, and she has been participating in the Freedom Walk since it’s inception.
A retired soldier herself, Wiggins loves being out with the kids, their parents and the soldiers.
“I love to see the soldiers, especially with the kids, because they’ve got a lot of people, parents and friends that are in the military. I love to see this cohesion. … I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world,” she said.
More than 50 schools in the Killeen Independent School District celebrate Freedom Week with walks, projects and programs every year. For the students at Manor Middle School, this is a tradition that people like Washington and Wiggins hope to see continue for years to come.