A committed group of more than 100 community members met Wednesday at Owensboro Fire Department Station 1 at West Ninth and Locust streets to take the Freedom Walk to the Charles E. Shelton Memorial at Smothers Park.
The Freedom Walk is intended to memorialize the 2,997 civilians, 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and eight paramedics that lost their lives during the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks.
City Commissioner Pam Smith-Wright organized the city's first Freedom Walk in 2002 to honor the first responders as well as the work done by law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency responders on a daily basis. While she would prefer to see hundreds join the walk, she is pleased that so many in the community still voice their support in any way they can, she said.
"Really, I would love for this thing to be 200 or 300 people," she said. "This is a symbolic celebration to recognize those people that lost their lives and I know people are working and remembering the sacrifices and the losses of that day. Maybe they don't show it in this arena, but they show it in their own ways. I am amazed by those that have joined us every year and am excited by those newcomers."
Participants were joined by area high school ROTC cadets who stood behind the Shelton Memorial as Smith-Wright, Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain and Owensboro Police Department Chief Art Ealum spoke to the crowd regarding remembrance, patriotism and the tireless efforts of those keeping the peace and tending public safety. Cain, who was honored at the walk, spoke passionately on the importance of remembrance.
"Owensboro continues to amaze me," he told the crowd. "This community as a whole, on how vested they are in our veterans, freedoms and sacrifices that have been paid for. That includes the sacrifices of 9/11. By and large, the vast majority of this community has not forgotten. They do remember and they do appreciate and cherish our freedoms and more importantly, those that have made the ultimate sacrifice to maintain them."
Every Sept. 11 the nation mourns the tremendous loss and celebrates the inspiring acts of heroism that are memorialized in the news, documentaries and in testimonies of those affected. While many of us can remember where we were on that fateful day, for some, like Owensboro native, Marine veteran and Red Cross Rapid Responder Mary Lou Goodsell, it is the days that followed that resonate.
"I was there the next day," she said. "I was there a month the first time and then needed to come home. I lasted for about two days and knew I had to go back and do all that I could. I stayed another month the second time."
Goodsell was in charge of getting the food out at a dining and claims center adjacent to Ground Zero.
"I can't explain how torn up people were," she said. "Many that I spoke with couldn't understand why they lived and others didn't. They didn’t know where to go, they were just lost. They would come in to try and find out what to do and people were trying to file claims to figure out where to go.
"This one guy came in and he had been on an elevator going up one of the towers with his friend to go to work. They arrived at their floor and his friend went down one hall and he went down the other. His friend didn't make it.
"He kept asking, 'He has a family and I don't. Why didn't they take me instead of him?' It was always 'Why me?' It was like they were in a barrel and didn't know how to get out. There was a big wall with pictures that people put up hoping someone had found their loved ones. It was devastating.
"Most days you worked upward of 17 hours and when you got back to the hotel, you couldn't sleep because it was all rolling around your head and you kept thinking, 'What can I do to do more?'"
In the years since, the national rallying call of "Never Forget" was been used to galvanize politicians and citizens alike to rally behind those first responders, their families, those that lost their lives and each other as American citizens. To this end, said Cain, even if you can't show your support through a walk, it is vital to always remember the meaning of 9/11.
"Everyone should pause at some point during the day," he said. "Find a quiet place and pause for a couple of minutes and pray for those individuals that were lost, the families that continue to suffer to this day and for all of our veterans and the sacrifices that have been made. To give thanks to God in his heaven above that we have people like that that are willing to lay down their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted," he said.
"From this day forward to next Sept. 11, live every day in appreciation for those individuals. That is the best honor we can give them."
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, firstname.lastname@example.org