By Janecze Wright
Fort Cavazos Public Affairs
KILLEEN, Texas — More than 200 first responders, Killeen Independent School District officials, military leaders, veterans, Gold Star families, elected officials and community members gathered at Killeen High School for the 17th annual Freedom Walk here.
The event paid tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, after a terrorist attack that would forever reshape history and redefine what it means to serve.
The Killeen High School Kangarettes opened the ceremony with a performance and the Killeen Police Department posted the colors.
Dr. Jo Ann Fey, KISD superintendent, addressed the audience and reflected on the motivation for the walk.
“This year’s event marks the 22nd anniversary of the unthinkable attacks on our nation on September 11,” she began. “And today, we continue to walk to honor those who suffered a personal loss, to show support for our troops who continue to defend the very freedoms attacked on that day. And we walk for the first responders and law enforcement who courageously charged toward danger on that day and every day to protect our safety. And finally, today, we walk to remind one another that the strength of our great country is within all of us, as long as we remain unified and steadfast in defending against any and all threats toward our democracy.”
Fey went on to acknowledge the campuses’ dedication to educating and informing students about the life changing events of 9/11.
“As the superintendent of Killeen ISD, I really am proud of our campuses and their efforts to not only educate today’s generation of students about this tragic day, but to also take the time to celebrate the freedoms and liberties that we are afforded,” she said. “Thanks to our local heroes, our servicemen, women of the military and our first responders. We believe the walks and activities around the district symbolize the strength and unity of our community. And together, we express our gratitude to the men and women who defend and protect our way of life.”
A video documenting the events following the attacks with insight from first responders provided a glimpse of those men and women and their efforts to support and defend the nation in the wake of a terrorist attack that claimed thousands of lives.
Guest speaker Chief James Kubinski, City of Killeen Fire Department, and 27-year firefighter and paramedic, grew emotional as he emphasized the loss by highlighting the significance of specific numbers.
“The number 343. Three hundred forty-three firefighters who woke up that morning, went to work and didn’t come home,” he expressed. Eight EMTs and paramedics who lost their lives that day. Sixty police officers between Port Authority and the New York Police Department who lost their lives that day. And the number 2,753, which are the total casualties from the towers that collapsed.
“But there’s other numbers,” Kubinski continued. “As of today, three hundred forty-one firefighters who have lost their lives to cancer as a result of their duties and their actions after the towers collapsed. That is almost as many firefighters who lost their lives on that day. Two hundred forty-one police officers who have lost their lives due to complications from their rescue activities on that day. They might have gone home that night to their families, but they’re no longer with us today.
“I want you to ask your loved one. Anybody who was around who can remember,” he requested. “What did they think of when they heard the news? And more importantly, how did they feel? That’s how you can never forget this because it’s not about all those numbers. It’s about every single American.”
After the audience joined in singing “God Bless America,” attendees made their way outside to begin the walk.
The Killeen High School Drumline played as Killeen High School JROTC cadets carried the Freedom Walk banner and walkers lined up and headed towards Leo Buckley Stadium.
First responders stood atop fire trucks and saluted as walkers made their way under the protective arch created by fire ladders that extended high above the procession.
American flags carried by members of the Killeen High School JROTC waved in the breeze as walkers, many of whom waved miniature flags as they passed, completed a full lap around the track.
As walkers faced the center of the field, KISD Assistant Fine Arts Director Garth Gunderson rang a bell in memory of those lost that day. Eleven rings of a bell that symbolized the date the nation was forever changed.