Light display, Freedom Walk honor Pentagon victims
September 12, 2006
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon memorial may not be finished, but on Sunday night, a moving if temporary memorial lit up the night sky. As opera singer Denyce Graves sang “God Bless America,” 184 beams of light were illuminated over the building — one for every person killed here in the terrorist attack five years ago.
The light show was the finishing touch to the second annual America Supports You Freedom Walk, which began on the National Mall and ended with a concert at the Pentagon featuring Graves and the Navy Band. The Freedom Walk was one of 126 similar events held across the country.
Organizers said 15,000 people registered for the walk. About a quarter-mile from the beginning of the route, a handful of protesters belonging to the Westboro Baptist Church parked themselves behind the waist-high, orange plastic fencing that separated registered walkers from the public.
Headed by the Rev. Fred Phelps and consisting almost entirely of a single extended family, this Topeka, Kan., group pickets military funerals and other events associated with the war on terrorism or in Iraq, earning it the ire of many members of Congress, servicemembers and their families.
The church and Phelps claim God is allowing soldiers, coal miners and others to be killed because the United States tolerates homosexuals.
The protesters screamed and waved signs that read, “This march is cursed” and “God hates fags.” In response, the passing marchers drowned out their yells with a roar that could be heard by marchers who had crossed Memorial Bridge and were on the other side of the Potomac River: “USA! USA!”
Brad Burlingame, 53, who traveled to Washington from Los Angeles with his wife, Diane, to participate in the walk and a commemorative ceremony the next day at the Pentagon, had never heard of the Westboro Baptist Church.
“Who are those guys?” Burlingame, who was wearing a navy-blue jersey with “Burlingame” and the number 11, asked. “That’s outrageous. I have to tell you, I really wanted to jump over that barrier and choke them.”
Burlingame’s jersey was in honor of his brother, retired Navy Capt. Charles Frank Burlingame III and the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77 — the flight that was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon.
The crash killed all 59 passengers and crewmembers on the flight, including Burlingame, 51, and 125 more people at the Pentagon. “My brother was my best friend,” Brad Burlingame said as he walked hand-in-hand with Diane. “We’re here to honor his memory, and the memory of everyone who died. To see all these [marchers] remembering, too, is a great comfort.”