I was pregnant with our first baby when I watched the Twin Towers fall, the Pentagon in flames, and a field in Pennsylvania scorched by terror. My personal connection to the moment those planes took away our country's innocence was mostly through people who knew people, friends in the Pentagon, a cousin who was in the middle of the chaos of Manhattan. I cried with the nation as I saw the posters held by those looking for their loved ones. I was transfixed by the incredible loss that reverberated across our country. And I drew my arms around my big, pregnant belly.
My husband was in the Army.
I remember turning to him that night and asking what it all meant for us. Little did we know that our next decade would be shaped by a single day. While the funerals were finishing in New York City and around the nation for those who perished, the funerals of soldiers dying overseas on the battlefield and in mess halls were beginning and would continue for the next eleven years.
I often wonder if America would mourn our soldiers more if their deaths didn't come in small tallies. If photographs of the men and women who died didn't show them in uniform but at their son's baseball game or daughter's dance recital, in their graduation cap, or their wedding day. If their pictures were on telephone poles or big boards in the middle of a city, would people take notice and cry out for our loss?
In December 2001, I gave birth to our first son. He would see his father go to Afghanistan when he was 1 year old. Then Iraq. Then Afghanistan again. He will turn 11 this year and his father will deploy for a third time to Afghanistan. The other day, someone raised their eyebrows when I told them. They said, "We're still sending soldiers there?" I wanted to cry. My heart almost slipped into my throat. I know people who have gone five, six, seven times. I know people whose husbands and wives have not come home. Full blocks in military towns are devoid of fathers and mothers. They just left a few weeks ago. They left nine months ago. They leave next summer. Many leave in a few weeks.
Some of them came home in coffins. More will.
Eleven years later. The posters are gone on the streets of New York City but the pictures are still going up on the nightly news of those who continue to be lost to the War on Terror. And, if you read the fine print, the War on Terror, the Afghanistan War, the "we stick around to advise them" version, no matter how its renamed, retooled, or reworked to make everyone else feel better, it means soldiers, human beings, our loved ones, are serving as they were asked to do.
Our son is now in fifth grade. He reads about 9/11 in school. He lives 9/11 at home.
Just as you honor the tremendous sacrifice that many made on that tragic day, please don't forget the service of our men and women who continue to be sent overseas and those families who wait for them at home.
There are still fathers, sisters, cousins, partners, friends running into those burning towers. Our nation called them to action after 9/11. Duffels packed. Kisses given. Tears cried. They march onto planes. Away from their families. Praying they return. Hoping you remember.