Christina Vasquez is sending dozens of emails an hour, fielding hundreds of phone calls and triple-checking her plans for what may be one of the largest festivals to honor a tragic day in American history — the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The active duty Navy petty officer first class is the lead planner for Operation Homefront Washington’s upcoming Freedom Walk.
Her day-long event will kick off with a 3.2 mile walk. The engines of motorcycles will roar. Girl Scouts will carry hand-decorated banners. Mayors from towns across the state of Washington will walk side by side to honor the moment. A community band will play as the crowd walks the first eight blocks.
Vasquez envisions flying flags, cheering crowds, smiles and memories in the making.
And that’s just the first hour. As Vasquez ticks off her to do list, she pauses briefly for the question: what will it all mean?
The patriotic zeal is not meant to rival July 4th celebrations, she says. This is something entirely different.
Instead, she says, it’s a day for younger generations of Americans whose love of country may not run as deep as their parents or grandparents.
“People have lost their patriotism,” Vasquez says. “Let’s not be selfish. Let’s honor the people who died that day and … the people who have an empty spot at their dinner table every day. Let’s honor the little girl or boy who ask about their dad or mother who died. That’s what we’re here for.”
Vasquez said she wasn’t in New York, Washington or Pennsylvania when the terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. But she saw the repercussions first hand afterwards. Friends deployed. Families torn apart.
She deployed to Kuwait but she hasn’t had to leave her family for lengthy absences. Instead of resting in her own good fortune, Vasquez was determined to do something to mark the day.
“My goal is to have the biggest [Freedom Walk] in the country,” she says. “I wanted to see something that would tell Al Qaeda that we stand together and we stand united.”
Now, Vasquez is working toward her dream. The Freedom Walk, in Arlington, Wash., has turned into a day-long festival.
Local bands will perform every 15 minutes. Between sets other groups will take the stage. During one break, future sailors will recite the reaffirmation of their oath.
Car clubs are scheduled to patriotically decorate and display their chrome and metal beauties. Children will run through bouncy houses, enjoy clowns, balloon twisting and other events. There are so many vendors that Vasquez says she is running out of booth space. Reservists and active duty sailors, soldiers and Coast Guard units adjusted their work schedules to make the event their place of duty for the day.
Vasquez has invited every civic club and veteran she can get to answer the phone. The evening will end in the glow of a low light display put on by hot air balloons floating through the sky above.
It’s in that moment, Vasquez says, she hopes people will reflect on the spirit of community and patriotism they’ve experienced through the day.
“I want them to put everything aside and honor those that lost their life in 9-11,” she says. “That is the ultimate goal.”
By Allison Perkins