ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - More than 25,000 flags were planted downtown at lawns surrounding the Dr. Phillips Center.
This 9/11 commemoration ceremony had a special message.
It's a message of sympathy and hope, not only for the thousands who died on September 11, 2001, but also for the thousands more who've served our country since then.
People like Michael Waldrop, a US Army captain who served in Afghanistan and earned two Bronze Stars for his actions there.
"I was wounded as we stormed a Taliban compound. I had my battle buddies around me and secured the objective. And helped myself get medevac'd along with other wounded and killed in action," Waldrop says.
He survived, but many of his brothers-in-arms didn't. His wife, Marnie, says he came back a changed man. "For a couple years after he returned he didn't want to be around large crowds, things would agitate him easily, driving on I-4 wasn't necessarily fun," she recalls.
"Here I am, back with loved ones, friends and family, and ice in my drink again. I was naïve because I didn't realize it would be such a struggle, the transition of coming home from war," Michael admits. So Marnie decided they should get help.
"Going through that deployment was the worst thing I've had to go through in my whole entire life. I didn't want to experience that and have my marriage crumble. I said to Michael, I know you don't want to, but we're going to seek counseling," she said.
It saved their relationship - and Marnie realized there were many more returning servicemen who needed help. The Waldrops started the Comraderie Foundation in Orlando, which has connected combat veterans with professional counseling to heal the emotional wounds of war.
"Counseling is not a sign of weakness," Marnie states, "it's actually a sign of strength."
They've also expanded their free services to all first responders, including police and firefighters, to handle tragic events like the Pulse shooting. At this morning's ceremony, the Waldrops wanted to make sure that no one is left behind.
"Less than 1/2 of 1% of put that uniform on," Michael says, "those combat veterans are not alone. We're here with you, there are 76,000 of you in Central Florida. We've got band together as brothers and sisters and watch each others' backs."
The Comraderie Foundation is holding another ceremony at the Dr. Phillips Center Monday morning at 9 a.m. to mark the three-month anniversary of the Pulse tragedy.
If you'd like to contribute to their efforts, you can visit their website at www.camaraderiefoundation.org