09/11/2012 09:26 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

9/11 Heroes Run: Uniting a Nation

Before leaving for his second combat deployment, Marine 1st Lieutenant Travis Manion visited Rescue 1 in New York City -- famous for their immediate and courageous response on 9/11. As a Reconnaissance Marine, he knew this deployment would take him into the epicenter of insurgent fighting. He wanted the firefighters and first responders to know he "did not forget." After spending the day with these heroes, he returned home, and shortly after began his final preparations for deployment. During the days leading up to his deployment his brother-in-law asked him, "Why go back?" Unhesitatingly, Travis responded, "If not me, then who?" Like so many great generations before him, protecting and preserving freedom was now a part of his responsibility.

Travis didn't return home from that deployment. He was killed in a complex ambush while repeatedly running back into enemy crossfire, dragging his comrades to safety. His heroic actions garnered some of our nation's highest military honors. "If not me, then who?" was not just an empty statement. It was the way he lived.

After learning of their son's death, Colonel Tom Manion and his wife, Janet Manion, started a not-for-profit assisting families of fallen military and supporting all uniformed personnel: armed services, police, firefighters, EMTs and all first responders in the communities who protect and serve our country every day. They provided this unique support in myriad ways. One of which is annually, on the weekend of September 11th, the Travis Manion Foundation brings communities together for a 9/11 Heroes Run to remember, honor and support these men and women in uniform. The proceeds from the race are used to help develop a local charity so they may continue to grow their organization supporting their hometown.

In the days after 9/11 our country stood firmly in our resolve to rebuild, physically, mentally and emotionally from the attacks that day. The rebirth of patriotism was palpable. During that time of sadness and fear, the smallest towns and largest cities bonded together, demonstrating the depth of our American spirit. Likewise, this past weekend, in almost 50 locations worldwide (including Afghanistan) Americans had the opportunity to run, volunteer, donate and cheer -- but most of all, honor -- the fallen during the annual 9/11 Heroes Run.

At the beginning of each 9/11 Heroes Run race the volunteers, participants and community heard the same message: "Today we run to honor those who are no longer with us. We run to honor fallen heroes from every community across this great land. Heroes who wore the uniform of our nation -- whether military, police, firefighter, or emergency responder. Today we run to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11 and since. Show the world we are stronger and more united than ever. God bless you, God bless those in harm's way today, and God Bless America!"

The Travis Manion Foundation, created in a time of sadness in a family's basement, manifests the same American spirit we experienced as a nation on 9/12. On this anniversary of September 11th, and every year, the Travis Manion Foundation will bring communities together across the country. We never forget.