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A Reminder to Never Forget

September 14, 2016

By: Stephen Waguespack

This week is the fifteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that forever changed this country on September 11, 2001.

I was living in Washington DC at the time, working as a Congressional aide. Our offices were located right across the street from the U.S. Capitol building. That morning the sky was crystal clear, the traffic was typically slow, and the workday started just like any other day at the office.  In the blink of an eye, that all changed and we were soon seeing on television the same haunting visuals of New York we all have etched in our memory.

Before long, calls were coming in from colleagues and acquaintances from across the country asking if we knew what was going on. Reliable information was quite hard to obtain, though I clearly knew our nation was under attack when I saw the smoke from the Pentagon rising across the Potomac River out my office window.

Cell phones went down quick and rumors of additional horrors across DC began to spread. Our building’s security quickly ordered us to evacuate, but it was an order that I initially ignored to keep hitting redial on the working office phone line in an attempt to connect with my wife across town. Moments later, that plan abruptly ended when heavily armed Capitol Hill police officers came in and made it crystal clear to me that the building evacuation was not an optional order.

I soon made my way outside to join countless other people on the road aimlessly walking and running away from the Capitol complex.  No one knew quite where to go to find safety and whether the danger had ended or was just beginning. I decided to go straight to our apartment ten blocks away to resume my calls.  While the phone lines proved useless there as well, it thankfully didn’t take too long for my wife to safely find her way back home thanks to the assistance of a few good samaritans.

We then spent the remainder of the day only ten blocks away from the most powerful building in the world huddled at home much like the rest of the country, helplessly watching television, in disbelief, and with the immediate knowledge that the world had changed, forever.

The horrors of 9-11 should never be forgotten. Neither should the way this nation united in response.  The terrorists broke our hearts that day, but they did not break our will and commitment to freedom with those cowardly acts.

In the days after that event, political parties didn’t matter. Conservatives and liberals saluted the same flag and no one dared take a knee to protest any grievance, well-founded or not. Our differences were peacefully resolved or temporarily faded into the background as our collective love of country took precedence above all else.

While the camaraderie was strong, that is not always the case anymore. Divided we may still fall, but united we regrettably do not always stand. 

We find ourselves in a critical year where we will soon elect a new President. Control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance and solving the gridlock in Congress seems like an insurmountable challenge. Important issues that threaten the very future of this country surround us, but fall to the wayside of this sensationalized campaign. Seemingly, a candidate’s personality traits and tweets are more thoroughly vetted than their policy positions.

Political discourse has become beholden to the art of the sound bite and complex issues such as national security rarely fit neatly into that mold. As a result, we are alarmingly uninformed on arguably the most important topic we face.

Fifteen years later, do we have a plan to keep us safe? Are we unapologetically defending freedom and American ideals? Are we united as patriots and steadfast in our love of country even as we exercise our freedom of speech and debate our political disagreements?

America is at its best when we are leaning forward as one; when our ideals are so clear that the rest of the world has no choice but to admire and emulate this “shining city on a hill,” to quote former President Reagan. We are strongest when we put country first, lead by example, and treat those who have risked their lives to protect us with respect and gratitude. We are that model democracy when we recognize our country may not be perfect, but work together regardless to make it stronger.

Fifteen years ago, we said we would never forget. Have we actually kept that promise? If you’re not entirely sure, then I think deep down, you know the answer.

So today, as we scroll through the anger of social media or overhear yet another trivial news story, let’s each make the choice to turn our attention to what matters, to re-focus on how to make our country stronger. While we can’t change the world overnight, we can start by simply reigniting that pride in being an American we saw fifteen years ago this week. And that will serve to truly honor the memories of those lost.