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Freedom Festival returns to Arlington | SLIDESHOW
ARLINGTON — Legion Park in downtown Arlington once again drew crowds ready to cheer on their country and its service members on Saturday, Sept. 15, as Operation Homefront conducted its annual Freedom Festival to memorialize the military’s sacrifices and help show support for its members in the wake of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
After an opening invocation by Pastor Chad Blood of the Lifeway Foursquare Church in Arlington, Col. Jeffrey Sabatine of the Washington Army National Guard reminded those in attendance of the nation’s prisoners of war and missing in action troops, and cited U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens — who was killed on Sept. 11 of this year in the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya — as another example of Americans who have sacrificed in service to their country.
“He was assisting a country that does not enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted,” Sabatine said, before calling upon the crowd to observe a moment of silence “in honor of our generation’s day that will live in infamy, 9/11, and of the victims and surviving families of that day.”
Arlington City Council member Ken Klein praised Operation Homefront for its support of service members’ families, and echoed Sabatine in referencing that week’s attacks on Americans in Libya and Egypt.
“It reminds us that there are people who despise our way of life and will do anything to attack it,” Klein said. “That’s why I’m so thankful that so many men and women are willing to give their lives to defend our freedoms.”
John McDonaugh, the Washington Chapter president of Operation Homefront, explained that his non-profit organization is able to help military personnel and their spouses in part through grants, as well as by events such as the Freedom Festival, school supply drives for military families across the state, and even baby showers for military moms in Seattle.
“Our people work tirelessly without compensation,” said McDonaugh, who singled out Petty Officer 1st Class Christina Vasquez of Naval Station Everett for special praise in coordinating the Freedom Festival and other such events. “I’ve got a lot of Christinas across the state, but none are better.”
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson showed up in his T-shirt and shorts to take part in the “Freedom Walk & Run” 5K following the morning’s speeches on Centennial Trail, and described Arlington as “hometown America” while echoing McDonaugh’s compliments of Vasquez.
“You all here in Arlington value your military families the same way we do in Everett,” Stephanson said. “We want to let the service members who protect us know that we’ve got their backs too. There continue to be significant evils in this world, and these men and women in uniform protect us every day.”
After a flyover by the Blackjack Squadron and the commencement of the 5K, a host of musical performers kept Legion Park rocking throughout the day.
Before the close of the Freedom Festival, the visitor information center on the Centennial Trail in Legion Park gained a new display, courtesy of Navy veterans Nathan Farmer and Eric Welter who had spent the previous few weeks constructing wooden replicas of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, set on a Pentagon base, with each tower bearing the laser-engraved named of all the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
“When we saw all those names, we knew we had to do something,” said Farmer, who estimated that he and Welter spent 100 hours on the project. “We were actually thinking of something like the Vietnam Wall, but [Arlington Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1561 Cmdr.] Willy Hughes suggested using the Twin Towers, and at our last post meeting someone else said we should incorporate the Pentagon.”
“It’s about giving back,” said Welter, who will be joining Farmer in talks with Arlington’s mayor and City Council to see if a more permanent version of their project could be set up outside in Legion Park. “Eleven years on, some people have forgotten. Some of the youngest to die were only 2 years old. Whole families died that day. When you say that nearly 3,000 people died that day it’s just a number, but when you read the names it really means something.”