Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Representing Team Red, White and Blue, Staff Sgt. Oliver Brunhoeber, noncommissioned officer in charge at the Fort Leavenworth Veterinary Treatment Facility, ran around Normandy Track with the American flag flying high as the students, faculty and families of Unified School District 207 remembered the events of Sept. 11, 2001, during the 12th annual Freedom Walk Sept. 11.
Red, white and blue filled the streets of Fort Leavenworth as groups walked from their respective schools for the event.
“Freedom Walks were started in 2005 by Pentagon employees to honor the lives of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001,” said Keith Mispagel, superintendent. “Freedom Walks have now become a way to renew our commitment to freedom and honor all who help us maintain this freedom.
“With this, the 18-year anniversary of the untenable events, it has never been more important for our continued strength as a school district, community, state and county,” he said. “This strength is forged in commitment to justice, liberty and freedom for all of us.”
During the ceremony, the Leavenworth High School Junior ROTC Color Guard posted the colors, the crowd sang patriotic songs and Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Antwone Jones led the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. Area first responders, represented by the firefighters of Fort Leavenworth Fire and Emergency Services and Leavenworth first responders, were special guests.
“Thank you all for being here today and for what you do daily to keep us safe from harm in our homes and in our community,” Mispagel said. “Your selfless actions for the safety and well-being of us all is admirable and inspirational.”
Guest speaker Col. Caroline Horton, 15th Military Police Brigade commander, said first responders are just one of the many things remembered about Sept. 11.
“Nearly 3,000 people died in what was the worst terrorist attack on American soil, but that’s not what we remember about Sept. 11. What we remember is the way Americans responded to the attack. We remember the courage and heroism of so many first responders — firefighters, policemen and paramedics — who rushed into burning buildings to save thousands of people,” Horton said. “We remember the passengers on the airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania who decided to fight back and not let the terrorists win, and likely prevented even more casualties.
“We remember the way that America came together to support the victims and their families, the way our flags flew proudly from every building and street corner,” she said. “We remember the men and women of our armed services — our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and civilians — who have deployed overseas countless times in the past 18 years. These men and women, including many who are here today, have spent the last two decades fighting the terrorists who attacked us, ensuring that they can never plan such an attack on our country again.”
Horton said the terrorists who attacked wanted to strike fear in the hearts of every American.
“They failed,” Horton said. “They accomplished quite the opposite. Their actions awakened both the fierce determination of the American spirit and the strong bonds of American communities. Today, we are reminded that there is nothing stronger or more resilient than the American spirit.
“Sept. 11 was a terrible day, but it was also a reminder of the things that make our country great — our freedom, our people, their courage and patriotism,” she said. “It is only fitting that we pause every year to remember these qualities, and celebrate the freedom that we enjoy. I’ll close with the words of then-President George W. Bush, who, in the aftermath of the attacks, said, ‘We will not waiver, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.’”
Students from each school also addressed the crowd, reading their winning essays, “What Freedom Means to Me.”
Kaitlynn Campbell, Bradley Elementary School sixth-grader, said freedom is about having a choice.
“You can choose every day how you want to live, to think, to feel, to believe, to speak,” Campbell said. “People with freedoms have a responsibility to use their voices to help others.”
Kate Lysaght, Eisenhower Elementary School sixth-grader, said freedom means opportunity.
“Without freedom, we would not have the opportunity to get an education,” Lysaght said. “We would not have the opportunity to get any job we want, or even eat the food we desire. Before we were granted freedom, these things were chosen by others or not given at all.”
Michelle Dillard, MacArthur Elementary School sixth-grader, said freedom is a basic human need.
“America was founded because people thought that freedom was something worth fighting for. In the past, many people would simply endure the many injustices they faced,” Dillard said. “Freedom was viewed as a fairy tale to many. … However, when broken (and) pushed past the breaking point, people fought. Some died and many suffered, but everyone left felt an indescribable relief pass over them.”
Elizabeth Zeller, Patton Junior High School ninth-grader, quoted the late Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, in her essay.
“‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others,’” she quoted.
“(Mandela) believed that freedom wasn’t just for yourself, but for everyone,” Zeller said. “True freedom is boundless opportunities for change, infinite possibilities in life and casting the chains off of everyone in the world. All you need to do is cut them free.”