Reflections, 16 years later …


“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.” In his address to a nation in shock after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, President George W. Bush invoked these powerful words of peace from Psalm 23. He told the millions watching around the globe that Sept. 11 was a day “when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.”

Monday marked the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001.

Since that day, Americans from all walks of life across the country have commemorated this day in different ways. We participate in moments of silence, remembering those who lost their lives in the protection of others. We fly our flags at half-mast. We think back to where we were during that exact moment when the planes hit the World Trade Center. We ask each other, where were you?

For many of us, it is a moment that will forever be seared into our brains – whether you were in second grade and your teacher told you school was closing early or at work, like I was, huddled around a TV with your co-workers, watching in real time as the twin towers crumbled in flames.

For many, especially our younger generations, Sept. 11 was the first memory of an enemy attack on our homeland. It was the first encounter with an enemy that desired to destroy American values and ideas. Because of this, President Bush’s call for unity in the face of terror and courage as we prepared to fight for justice and peace resonated across a generation. Americans listened. They came together. They helped each other. In fact, many of the brave men and women who I served alongside in Iraq joined the U.S. military after Sept. 11, because they felt this attack was a call to serve and protect this great nation.

One of these men was my friend, Army Major John P. Pryor. A talented and well-known trauma surgeon at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Pryor said goodbye to his wife and three children on 9/11 and headed straight to Ground Zero to provide care. Moved by what he saw, he joined the Army Reserves and deployed to Iraq as a combat surgeon. John was killed on Christmas Day in 2008, when a mortar round struck near his living quarters in Mosul, Iraq.

In light of recent threats toward the United States, the anniversary of Sept. 11 – and how it redefined the future of the security and defense of this country – feels a little closer to home than usual. There are those who want to destroy our nation and our way of life. For months, North Korea’s growing missile program and its end goal of American destruction has been in the news, along with continued stories of the threats of radical Islamic terrorism, recent attacks in Europe, an increasingly aggressive Iran, and the list goes on. Yet while these stories crowd the headlines, we seem to have forgotten President Bush’s call for unity 16 years ago, and the strength derived when Americans come together as one.

As a country, we face these threats together. Not a single group or party or region bears the burden more than the other, and no one is exempt from these threats.

Today, I think of our men and women in uniform. I think of John Pryor and the life he gave for others. I think of our firemen, our law enforcement, the friends and family who lost a loved one on that day 16 years ago. Sadly, I also think that too often across the country, including here in Washington, D.C., we see political divisions distracting from our shared purpose of coming together to protect this great country. Debate is good. Dissent is healthy. But we cannot allow partisan bickering to divert us from who the true adversaries are. Because at the end of the day, we’re all Americans. We’re all on the same team.

I encourage us all as Americans to thank God for our safety, thank our men and women in uniform for their service, and squeeze our loved ones a little tighter before bed tonight. But let us also look to the future, drawing on America’s courage and resolve in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to unite us once again to stand against the challenges of tomorrow.

Congressman Brad Wenstrup represents the 2nd Congressional District of Ohio. He serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the House Armed Services Committee, and the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He is also an active member of the U.S. Army Reserve.

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