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20 Years: Remembering the day we were united

It has been 20 years. Students in college right now never knew a world in which the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center defined the New York City skyline — or one in which the United States did not have troops trying to keep us safe by serving in Afghanistan. They never heard speeches from presidents who did not mention at least in passing the Taliban, al-Qaida and ISIS.

And most of them are too young to remember, in those years after terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, how Americans came together in a vow to stand united and “Never forget.” They don’t know the horror of learning nearly 3,000 people were killed on American soil because violent extremists used their religion and political ideology to justify an attack on everything for which we stood.

They don’t know what it felt like, to watch a nation come together and declare that what we stood for was worth protecting — worth fighting for; and that we made that declaration as one people. We had each other’s back. If we saw something, we said something. If our military men and women were sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, we supported them.

So today, as we look back two decades to one of the most terrifying moments in American history, we must, indeed, never forget. We must never forget what it is about this nation that so infuriated those who sought to destroy us. We must never forget those who died — nearly 3,000 lives whose absence MUST spur us to be better, to remain a beacon of freedom for the world. And we must never forget the nearly 4,600 U.S. servicemembers killed in the Iraq war and nearly 2,500 killed in Afghanistan. Their loss, too, must inspire us to ensure they did not die in vain.

Now, we look to the New York City skyline and see the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center. We face the end of the war in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from a country that returned to Taliban control more quickly than many imagined possible. And we live in a nation where disagreement, upheaval and a monster virus have given some politicians a window to convince us we are divided and vulnerable — that there are two (or more) Americas.

No. We are, still, the UNITED States of America. And today we are united once again by the vow that on September 11 and every day we may be different, but we are indivisible. That, we will never forget.

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