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Friday, September 21, 2007

Mall hosts Freedom Walk for Sept. 11

BY JASON GELLER - MiamiHerald.com

Elementary school students, firemen and rescue workers from ground zero gathered at Aventura Mall Tuesday morning to honor lives lost Sept. 11, 2001.
After a short ceremony at the first-floor, star-shaped Fountain Court, about 200 people walked the perimeter of the mall as part of the third nationwide America Supports You Freedom Walk.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans around the country marched in appreciation for people serving in the military, said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Public Affairs.

''The America Supports You Freedom Walk has become the new national tradition in the way of commemorating 9/11 -- for lives lost and out of the respect for first responders who immediately raced to the scene,'' Barber said.

Four members from the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center Miami stood single-file, in uniform, holding rifles and American flags while The Star-Spangled Banner played.

The Aventura City of Excellence second-grade choir then sang It's a Small World on a small stage, accompanied by chorus director Phillip Lakofsky on guitar.
A student-made banner, full of yellow, green, blue, and orange hand-prints to honor troops serving overseas, hung over the lectern, where former Hialeah Fire Department Lt. Luis Espinosa hosted the ceremony.

''I think it's important that we don't forget what happened,'' Espinosa said. ``For some reason, our memory is different than the older generation and we don't like living with the negative stuff. I think it's very important that we remember 9/11.''

On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked four planes. Two struck the World Trade Center towers in New York, one the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and another crashed in a Pennsylvania field. In total, nearly 3,000 people were killed.

Many of the more than 100 students from Aventura City of Excellence School and Lake Stevens Middle School were too young to have known the severity of the attacks at the time.
Fourth-graders Jonatan Ward and Stephanie Diaz led the march, holding up an American flag upon which was written names of 9/11 victims.

''I like it because we're honoring the people who died,'' said fourth-grader Daniela Lampru. ``I'm glad to have the privilege of this experience.''

The event drew people who lived amid the events. ''We saw them going down and we saw the smoke rising for days,'' said Aventura resident Ruth Albert Levine.

``People were walking the streets like zombies, nobody smiling, nobody greeting each other. We've lost friends and neighbors. Many of those coffins were empty. We had a friend who was only identified by his hand.''

The ceremony honored the deceased and celebrated efforts of the armed forces.
Tech Sgt. Howard Watkins, from the United States Air Force, who served in Iraq in 2006, stressed the importance of military service.

''We're willing to do this to ensure that the kids can be safe,'' Watkins said. ``When I look out at the sea of young faces, I question how could I not serve.''


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