In the 12 years since 9/11, an entire generation of Americans has grown up in the shadows of towers that no longer stand. These are the children who experienced the tragedy through pictures — the Statue of Liberty wreathed in smoke — and stories, of heroes racing into collapsing buildings to save people they’d never met. In their textbooks are photographs of the giant flag unfurling over the Pentagon, and on their computers the video of a President standing on rubble, vowing to help the men responsible meet their Maker.
These are the children who never knew the White House without barricades or got off an airplane into the outstretched arms of family waiting right at the gate. What they do know is life without a mom or dad. Almost a million military kids have had one or two parents deployed at least twice since September 11 — and thousands of them are still coping with the fact that they’re never coming home. This generation of Americans lives with the reminder of 9/11 every day — in the empty seat at the kitchen table or the missing chair at middle school soccer games. They understand that horrible day 12 years ago as the spark in the smoldering wreckage that led to war.
And while the rest of the country has time to pause and reflect, for our military families and their brave service men and women, there’s no luxury of remembering, no chance to stop and rest. With every explosion or car fire, the pain of that day — and its consequences — is never more real. Since 9/11, more than six thousand American soldiers, airmen, and Marines have been killed in the fight for justice — the most recent on Thursday when forces attacked Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. For our selfless military, the toll of that day is ever rising, borne across the world by warriors who laid down their lives to keep the flames of freedom burning.
In the years since the “War on Terror” began, they’ve know everything from the jubilation of catching Osama bin Laden to the heartbreak of the Boston bombings and the tragedy of Benghazi. They fight because their country needs them, and they fight to keep their loved ones safe — but more than that, they fight to preserve principles that make America great. Ken Connor, who was the President of FRC on that fateful day, reflected back on what really matters after 9/11. His conclusion was a familiar one: faith, family, and freedom. From that piece he wrote in the days after the attack:
George Washington once said that the trail of the Continental Army into winter quarters at Valley Forge could be traced by bloody footprints in the snow. What drove those courageous patriots to such sacrifice? What carried the Army Rangers up the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on D-Day? What made uncommon valor common on Iwo Jima? … It was virtue. Men will not willingly sacrifice themselves in the full bloom of life unless there is something worth dying for… The virtues that Americans have always defended — those things that have ennobled the sacrifices of grieving wives, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters are the eternal verities, the bedrock virtues on which American civilization stands. We cannot ask the nation’s young men to go forth into danger merely to defend grasping consumerism. We cannot expect mothers to kiss their sons on the cheek and send them off to war to defend the right of pornographers to exploit women and children… Can the nation demand that its soldiers enter into the horrific Moloch’s maw of combat so that the innocent unborn can continue to be slaughtered?
As Benjamin Franklin observed, ‘Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.’
May Americans today also be deserving of it.
This article was written by Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council.