911 walk run 2011_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — It was an emotional time for many participants at Sunday’s Freedom Walk in downtown West Palm Beach.

Friends and family, first responders and other supporters came out to honor those who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Some recalled viewing the tragedy on television with tears streaming down their faces.

Everyone could remember the exact place they were when hearing of the attacks a decade ago.

Operation Homefront held its second annual Freedom Walk to commemorate the anniversary and to help raise money for the men and women in the military.

Chairman Steve Lawrence said the organization supports the families on the home front in need of assistance when soldiers are deployed. 

“Sometimes military personnel have young families in need, the roof leaks, the plumbing breaks,” he said. “While mom or dad is over in Afghanistan in the conflict, maybe there’s a husband or wife on the home front that gets in trouble and needs help.”

Lawrence said events such as the Freedom Walk help people to look forward, rather than worrying too much about the past.

“We want to honor it and commemorate it but then move forward,” he said.

Ken Tanner lost his brother Michael in the attacks.

Michael Tanner was 43 and worked for Cantor Fitzgerald financial services at One World Trade Center in New York CIty, which reportedly lost 658 employees on 9/11.

“My boy was 4 months old when it happened.  I was living here in Florida.  I got a phone call from my wife that we were attacked,” Tanner said. “I started throwing up.  I lost a lot of friends, my brother’s friends.  It’s just tough.  If it weren’t for my son…he’s the one that keeps me going and my family as well.”

Tanner said he talks to his departed brother every day and the Freedom Walk was a good distraction from watching the tragedy being replayed repeatedly on television.

“It’s good talking about it.  But sometimes you do get emotional,” he said.

Jodi De La Cerda, 28, said she was a freshman at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton when she learned of the attacks. “It was broadcast that they were shutting the school down because somewhere in the U.S. was attacked,” she said. “So, there was sheer panic.  Everyone got in their car and started heading home.”

Everybody had their reasons for turning out at the 5k walk/run.

“My father was in the Army.  I had a couple of friends working for the Port Authority during 9/11, during that time.  So, I figured I could do my part,” Chris Leonard said. “I grew up there, in New York. One of my friends and I were at Ground Zero a few years after the attacks.”

Leonard said there was a trailer on the site and inside there were pictures of all the fallen police officers, fire rescue personnel and emergency workers. 

“It was very somber. We didn’t talk for 10 minutes after we got out of there,” he said.

Leonard said every year is a reminder of the service members who keep the nation safe everyday.

U.S. Navy veteran Carlton Pierce said the Freedom Walk was one of the best ways to support the men and women in the military.

“There were military personnel who had died at the Pentagon on 9/11.  I knew one of them, Commander Patrick Dunn. He was a former classmate in the Naval Academy,” Pierce said. “Once you serve your country, you don’t want to see something bad happen to it. And, of course, it did.”

The 5k walk was also personal for Laurence Brady, who was in New York when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

“I was a few miles away from Ground Zero.  I was watching the news at work.  It looked like a private plane crashed into a building,” Brady recalled. “I didn’t think it was a terrorist attack at first. I knew people who were in the building.  I felt helpless.  I couldn’t do anything to help them.”

Photo: ALAN LUBY/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES

Simone Cunha, throws her arms up in the air as she approaches the finish line.