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Celebrating Service and Sacrifice on 9/11

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Eleven years ago, our country suffered the tragedy of 9/11. Since that time, our service men and women have fought a war against those who harmed us and our government has worked to prevent future attacks.

Now, after a decade of mourning, it is time to honor those we lost by celebrating the service and sacrifice of Americans since that day.

President Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 "a date that will live in infamy." The attack on Pearl Harbor signified the United States' entrance into a bloody World War that affected all Americans. But equally, with time and perseverance, this infamous day also signified the birth of our "Greatest Generation."

The war effort in the '40s advanced our country's skilled labor and manufacturing. During and after the war, the country took a role as an international super power -- strong on defense and foreign policy. The American population came together through shared sacrifice, which helped usher an era of economic prosperity. And from Dwight Eisenhower to George H.W. Bush, seven Word War II veterans have been elected U.S. President.

We can see threads of this growth in America today. After more than a decade, we can better recognize the many great accomplishments born from a tragic event.

Since 2002, national service organizations and the 9/11 community have commemorated the anniversary of the attacks through service. Bringing citizens together not only to mark the date, but also to serve their communities. Now recognized as a National Day of Service, in 2011 more than 30 million Americans engaged in charitable service activities on 9/11.

In World War II, Ted Williams and Jimmy Stewart put on the military uniform and served overseas. In the current generation, Pat Tillman answered that same call. Pat left a prospering NFL career to serve as an Army Ranger. After his death in Afghanistan, his wife Marie carried on his legacy through the Pat Tillman Foundation. Among other things, the Foundation awards scholarships to Tillman Military Scholars as a way to empower the best and brightest post-9/11 veterans.

Across the country, young veterans of the recent conflicts are stepping into roles as public servants and civic leaders. They are running for political offices at the local, state, and federal level. And their desire to lead is emblematic of the qualities and values of those who have served.

Today, this new generation of veterans strives -- along with civilian counterparts -- to become another "great generation". Out of the events of 9/11 and a decade of armed conflict, our country has cultivated a cohort of veterans and civilians who are ready to lead the country forward. They are a group of young Americans who have seen struggles and persevered, who are trained as leaders and team builders, and who can inspire greatness amongst all Americans.

In the midst of our commemoration of the 9/11 tragedies, it is important to also take time to understand service and value sacrifice. From December 7th to September 11th, and every day before and after, our ability to find the light in even the darkest hour is part of what makes America a great nation.

But if these triumphs go by the wayside -- if citizens do not answer the call to service in their own communities, if society fails to empower returning veterans to lead, if the country is not inspired by this service and sacrifice -- then a generation will miss its opportunity to be great.

It is crucial to our recovery and growth as a nation to not only commemorate, but also recognize and celebrate the good that can come from a tragedy.