All of us who are old enough to remember the event, remember where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. (The scary part, to me, is that an entire generation does not remember!) I was editing a book manuscript for a client when my sister called and tersely said, “Turn on your TV. Just turn on your TV.”
Three days after the attacks, while Americans were still trying to come to grips with what had happened to our nation, President George W. Bush called for a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for the victims of the terrorist attacks on the United States. On October 25, 2001, Representative Vito Fossella (R-NY) introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives. It was cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats, and it passed the House by a vote of 407-0. (Amazingly, 25 members–17 Republicans and 8 Democrats–did not vote, apparently unable to decide which side they were on!) The resolution passed the Senate unanimously on November 30. And the first official commemoration of Patriots’ Day was observed the following September 11, 2002.
In the attacks, 2,977 innocent people died in the Twin Towers, 189 in the attack on the Pentagon, and another 37 in the thwarted attack in which the plane crashed in Shanksville, Pa. Since the attacks, the United States has waged the longest war in American history, 17 years. An entire generation of children have grown up in a country engaged in constant warfare.
Twenty percent of active duty military personnel have been deployed in some aspect of this war three or more times. More than 50,000 have been deployed four times. I’ve heard a report of one Marine who finally retired after his sixth deployment into a combat zone. The average deployment has been 7.7 months with an average time between deployments of 21 months. A lot can happen to a family in 7-8 months. Babies are born. Infants grow up. Fathers are absent, and mothers must somehow cope. Bills pile up. Homesteads deteriorate for lack of strong hands to maintain them. Marriages suffer.
Those are individual losses that families of deployed military personnel incur. Even greater in magnitude is the loss suffered by the nation as a whole.
Etched in my mind from the September 11, 2001, attacks is the image of members of Congress from both parties standing shoulder to shoulder and singing “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol. They were apparently united, much as the nation’s leaders united following the Pearl Harbor attack and throughout World War II.
But that image is only a memory today. A quick glance at Congress today, and one would never know it was the same group of people or that they were united on anything, let alone the mutual desire to protect our freedoms. What has happened? Political charade, hypocrisy, and insanity!
Collectively, we, the American people, and especially our politicians, have forgotten not only what brought them together that day but also, more generally, what made and makes America what it is. To look at them today, one from another planet would never know that we have thousands of service personnel engaged in battle to the death against an enemy that is set on destroying not just our troops who oppose them but our very way of life. The politicians bicker and fight for power, willing to sacrifice everything to obtain it. And the media love to have it so. Together, they are making a shambles of America. They call good evil and evil good. Corporate America celebrates millionaire athletes who deplore America and desecrate its symbols and who hypocritically cry about how they’ve been mistreated by the American system. And they ignore or downplay the true sacrifices made by the American military personnel and their families.
Yes, thousands upon thousands of military personnel and their families have made and continue to make sacrifices. Nearly 7,000 of those sacrifices have been the lives of military personnel given in service to one of the multiple operations conducted during the war. Sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, cousins and nephews, etc. Men like Pat Tillman, Chris Kyle, and Justin Peterson.
And then there are the families of service personnel who have endured multiple deployments. Fathers who missed the births of their children, the infant years of growing up, the important events of the teen years. The physical sacrifices of lost limbs and other physical injuries. And poor service members who will continue to suffer from the often unseen and less often diagnosed or understood mental and psychological wounds of PTSD. These, not politicians, are the real heroes.
As we commemorate Patriots’ Day this year, let’s truly honor the memories of the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks and of those who later sacrificed all and help those who sacrificed physical and mental health and loss of family time to secure and protect us.
And the best way of honoring those sacrifices is to be adult Americans who are more serious about preserving our freedoms than spoiled, temper-tantrum-throwing two-year-olds whose sole interests are griping about what’s wrong with America and gaining political power.