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Twenty years later, we remember the fallen from that day and in the wars that followed

By: Senator James Lankford

Twenty-one years ago, Sept. 11 was just another day in the fall. Not anymore. Twenty years after the worst terrorist attack in American history, Sept. 11 remains a day that we pause and remember. Especially this year.

In the 20 years since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve added new phrases to our national vocabulary like “War on Terror,” “terrorist watch list,” “global entry,” “TSA,” “Department of Homeland Security” and, painfully, many others. But old words like “remember” also have new meaning and a new sense of responsibility.

Our nation watched in horror as almost 3,000 American fathers, mothers, sons and daughters were lost in the deadliest act of terrorism in our nation before or since; seven of those lost that day were Oklahomans.

We lost more than 2,400 service members in Afghanistan to the War on Terror since Sept. 11, 2001. Of those, 51 brave Oklahomans gave everything to keep us safe. They left behind families, which we lovingly refer to as our Gold Star families, whose lives have been forever changed because of their loved ones’ sacrifice.

For the past several weeks, almost every veteran of the war in Afghanistan and Gold Star family member I spoke to wanted to talk about the chaotic end of the war in Afghanistan and if the past 20 years meant anything to anyone. I let them know that it has mattered, to all of us.

For 20 years, we have had no major terror attack on U.S. soil, saving countless lives. The mission in Afghanistan was honorable and gave a taste of freedom to millions who live in a place that is thirsty but unfamiliar with the savor of liberty mixed with responsibility.

The Afghan region has been a mess for a millennium, but our nation is more secure because of the action and lives of the thousands of Americans who chose to be the heroes for our generation.

It’s our duty now to stand beside our warriors and the Gold Star families to encourage them, check on them and support them. They know the price of freedom.

When a war ends, the families who lost a loved one still have a hole. They still want their warrior remembered, and they still want to have the option to remain a part of the military family.

We need dedicated units around the country that are structured and organized to keep living life with Gold Star families and keep supporting those affected by the trauma of war.

I hope all Americans take time to remember that 24 hours a day, seven days a week — whether you’re sleeping, watching a movie, having dinner with your family or hard at work — someone is standing on the watch for you.

At this very moment, rain or shine, our military is defending our freedoms and fulfilling their mission to keep us safe. They are willing to give their lives in order to save ours. We should remember and stand with those who stand for us.

As we remember 9/11 this year, I hope we will also remember the empty seat at the dinner table for many of our Gold Star families. If you have a grieving military family in your life, please help take care of them or get involved with an organization of your choice that supports veterans, Gold Star families, or active duty military serving around the world.

If you are too young to remember what happened that awful day in September 2001, find someone who fought for our nation over the past 20 years and ask them why they chose to enlist to protect you. You may hear a story that you will never forget.

 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)