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This weekend, Americans across the country and around the world will pause to remember the thousands of victims that perished because of the evil terror attacks of 9/11. It will forever be a day to mourn the loss of innocent life and remind us of the evil we must remain committed to defeat.

In the aftermath of that tragic day, we also saw examples of bravery that exemplified the very best of the American spirit and citizenry. We saw firefighters rushing toward the burning buildings. We saw police officers working to bring comfort to an attacked city. And we saw first responders doing all they could in chaotic conditions to save lives. That tragic day also inspired an entire generation of heroes who volunteered to sacrifice their own time, and potentially their lives, to seek out the terrorists who attacked our homeland. The Marines, sailors, soldiers, and airmen of the post-9/11 generation join a long history of heroes who placed service above all else.

As we remember the lives lost, let us also celebrate the spirit of service lived out by our troops and veterans. The Travis Manion Foundation, named after USMC 1st Lt. Travis Manion, a hero of this generation whose bravery, valor, and sacrifice in combat during an ambush in Iraq allowed all the other members of his patrol to survive, has helped gather the perspectives of these warriors and what this anniversary means to them.

Gabriela Ryan, Army Veteran

“As immigrants to America from Afghanistan and Pakistan, my family were some of the most grateful people I knew for the privileges of freedom and safety afforded us here. September 11, 2001 made me, at 11 years old, keenly aware for the first time of what supposedly separated us from ‘normal Americans.’

“But more importantly, the 21 years since then have taught me what unites us all. The lie that terrorists tried to tell us on 9/11, that they represented an ancient and honorable religion, and that America hates Muslims, has been unraveled every day since then by countless great American warriors who gave their lives in Muslim countries. And by friendly neighbors all around the country who have loved ‘Muslim’ Americans as just simply Americans.

“Never was I prouder to be a first generation American from a Muslim family than after 9/11. I, with my entire family, recognize and honor the great Americans who have fought since 9/11 for a better America and a better Afghanistan. We thank God for the heroism of so many Americans. Each year on 9/11 we remember the sadness and horror. But every Memorial Day and Veterans Day and Independence Day we wave one flag in honor…the Stars and Stripes.”

Travis Howard, Navy Veteran

“The morning of Sep 11, 2001 is one that I remember very well. As a young U.S. Navy Sailor, I was on leave at my family’s home in Minnesota. My ship, a Navy frigate homeported in Norfolk Virginia, readied herself for a routine deployment in just six days, giving us precious little time for some last-minute R&R.

“As we watched the towers fall on TV, I got a call from our personnel officer; the command was initiating a full crew recall, the ship was preparing for immediate tasking in the War on Terrorism. With flights grounded, travel back to Norfolk was at first impossible, but I made it work after only a few days and a lot of help from family, friends, and even total strangers.

“Less than a week later, this small but mighty warship — with her full crew compliment restored — made best possible speed across the Atlantic, bound for the Mediterranean Sea where we would spend the next six months conducting boarding, search, and seizure operations on smugglers suspected of aiding terrorists — part of a larger effort that became known as Operation Enduring Freedom.

“For me, my outlook on military service was changed and my career path was cemented: I would make national defense my chosen career, with information technology my specialty to support its missions, and the next twenty years were some of the best ups and downs I could have hoped for.

“The tragedy and audacity of 9/11/01 made many careers, ended far too many others, and brought the nation together in a way we hadn’t seen since World War II, and while I hope never to see a repeat I do hope that we can find that unity, that resolve, once again — it is our greatest strength as a nation, and it makes our enemies tremble.”

Tags: Veterans