by christine morgan arceneaux
Advocate staff report
September 10, 2012
Emily Otken, 11, held on tightly to a small American flag as Dani Lamana talked about her brother, U.S. Navy Lt. Michael Scott Lamana, during Saturday morning’s Freedom Walk and Patriot Day at the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum.
Michael Lamana, killed when a jetliner crashed into the Pentagon, was one of five Louisiana natives who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He was among the 2,966 people who lost their lives that day and who were honored during Saturday’s event.
Michelle Otken, of Denham Springs, had a couple of reasons to come downtown for the annual event
As many others, Otken has a personal connection. She was close friends with the Navy lieutenant and his family.
“We’ve been friends with Jude (Chatelain, Lamana’s brother-in-law) and Andi (Chatelain, Lamana’s sister) and the Lamanas since college,” Otken said.
“We’re here to support the family,” she added. “We come every year.”
Inaugurated in 2005 to commemorate the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., and honor the lives lost on 9/11, the Freedom Walk has grown into a nationwide event, organizers said.
Otken didn’t come to Saturday’s event alone. She brought her husband, Jim Otken, as well as her young daughters, Emily and Ella. Otken also met her friends, Keith Didlier and his daughter, Raeann, 11, of Baton Rouge, at the ceremony.
“It means a lot that even though it passed, that people still care and it’s important to remember it,” Emily said of the events on Sept. 11, 2001. “If you forget history, you’ll make the same mistakes over again.”
With tears in her eyes, Dani Lamana asked the more than 50 people gathered for the event to “remember the lives that were taken that day” as well as all armed forces veterans, past and present.
“Where were you September 11?” Dani Lamana asked while she described her feelings on that fateful day.
“It will never make sense to me why that type of evil exists in this world,” Lamana said. However, she added, “Every day, we have an opportunity to make a choice to do something that counts.”
The names of Lt. Michael Scott Lamana, Kevin Yokum, Louis Calvin Williams, Leo Russell Keen and Robert J. Hymel, all of whom died Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, were read aloud.
“We must never forget the lives taken on September 11 ... and those left behind,” Lamana said.
For Kim Leep, of Baton Rouge, a friend of the Lamana family, attending the event was her way of supporting the family.
“He was just an outstanding individual,” Leep said of Michael Lamana.
“He thought about other people before himself. He was a very caring, giving person. He was patriotic, too.”
Wanda Lamana, Michael’s mother, said she will never forget Sept. 11, 2001, and hopes that all Americans remember what happened on that day.
“People need to be aware that it could happen again,” she said.
She also said she hopes people remember the sacrifices that her son and others have made for their country so that what they have done to help others has not been in vain.
“The people that are here today are the same faithful people that come every year, and it makes me feel good,” she said.
Following the memorial service, about three dozen audience members walked together southward along South River Road on the levee.
Firefighters from the Baton Rouge, St. George, Prairieville and Zachary fire departments at the ceremony then headed to the Governmental Building to conduct their own memorial in “honor of our fallen brothers,” Baton Rouge Fire Department officials said.
“September 11, 2001, is a day that we will never forget,” Baton Rouge Fire Department Public Information Officer Curt Monte said.
Firefighters from around the area completed a 110-story climb, one that their “brothers” started on Sept. 11, 2001, Monte said. Each firefighter climbed stairs to the 11th floor 10 times, and bore the names of the 343 firefighters that died on Sept. 11.
“This represents the 110 stories of the twin towers that New York firefighters attempted to climb,” Monte said.
“Essentially, we are going to finish the climb that they didn’t that day,” he said.