New York, Washington Mark Sept. 11 Anniversary
(Soundbite of bells tolling)
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
The sound of two bells filled the air at ground zero in New York City today.
(Soundbite of bell tolling)
ELLIOTT: One bell tolled for the known victims of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center; the other, for those whose remains were never identified. They rang out 2,749 times. Thousands of people walked by. Some stopped to leave photos of friends and family members who were killed four years ago today. In a field in southwestern Pennsylvania, about a thousand people attended a memorial service for the 40 passengers and crew members who died when hijacked Flight 93 crashed into the ground. And at the Pentagon, a few thousand gathered to remember those who died in the September 11th attack on that building. Participants in the America Supports You Freedom Walk, organized by the Defense Department, wore matching T-shirts and walked from the Pentagon across the Potomac River to the National Mall. Many marchers were US government employees, and they heard from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (Defense Department): I want to thank all of you for being here. I want to thank you for your wonderful support of the men and women in uniform, what they do for our country, the noble work they're performing...
(Soundbite of applause)
Sec. RUMSFELD: ...every one a volunteer. God bless them all, all across the world.
(Soundbite of cheers and applause)
ELLIOTT: The walk was calm and peaceful. The Pentagon said between 15 and 20,000 people preregistered for the event, though fewer appeared to walk the route. US Park Police carefully controlled access in order, they said, to protect Secretary Rumsfeld and the other officials who participated. But police did set up a place where the public could see the free concert at the end of the route given by country music star Clint Black.
Mr. CLINT BLACK (Country Music Star): It is important to me and all of us to send a message out to those troops listening on military bases in 177 countries around the world that we know who the good guys are.
(Soundbite of cheers and applause)
Mr. BLACK: And they are it.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BLACK: (Singing) All my life, I've been a cowboy in my heart...
ELLIOTT: A couple of demonstrators did protest the event. In recent weeks, as the Freedom Walk gained more attention, it also grew controversial. Some anti-war groups were angered by the mingling of what they see as two issues: the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq. Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports.
NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER reporting:
The Pentagon insists there was nothing political about the Freedom Walk, and it defends its decision to restrict access to people who registered with the Pentagon by Friday afternoon. Allison Barber, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, says the preregistration was necessary to ensure the event went smoothly.
Ms. ALLISON BARBER (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Safety): When you do a walk in Washington, DC, you have to make sure that you have the roads closed for the right amount of time, you have the right first aid--amount of first aid stations set up, the amount of porta-potties set up, the right amount of T-shirts, the right amount of bottles of water. And the only way we can make sure we know that it is if we know how many people are coming to the walk.
MARSHALL-GENZER: Some 9/11 family members did participate today, but others have complained forcefully that they felt they were being used. Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City lost his brother, David, on 9/11 in the south tower of the World Trade Center. Rice says the Pentagon is capitalizing on his grief.
Mr. ANDREW RICE (Lost Brother in 9/11 Attack): I don't think it's an accident that they're having essentially a military march on what should be a day of mourning. But to have such a focus on the military and to conflate, really, the war with Iraq as part of what's come out of 9/11--as a justifiable result of 9/11, I think, is inappropriate and desperate, from my opinion, on their part.
MARSHALL-GENZER: But Pentagon spokeswoman Allison Barber says it is appropriate to expand the commemoration.
Ms. BARBER: You know, it's important for people to realize that we have military members serving in 177 countries today. And we appreciate the fact that they're defending our freedom; they're volunteering to serve this country. And so the Freedom Walk is for both groups. It's for victims of 9/11 and their families, a tribute to them, and then honoring our veterans, past and present.
MARSHALL-GENZER: Despite the criticism, the Pentagon is planning to make the Freedom Walk an annual event. Spokeswoman Barber says next year the Defense Department is hoping to hold local Freedom Walks in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia.
For NPR News, I'm Nancy Marshall-Genzer in Washington.
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