04/16/2013 03:09 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2013

Marathoner's Daughter: 'Are We at War, Mommy?'


When Jill Wheeler crossed the finish line, she was quick to find her family. They were proud of her accomplishment. Finishing the Boston Marathon is a dream come true for any marathoner. But the dream turned quickly into a nightmare when two explosions ripped through the air. Hours later, another explosion happened yet it came in a hotel room in the form of a question -- "Are we at war, mommy?"

Jill's 7-year-old daughter asked a very simple, yet loaded, question -- are we at war? The innocence of a child is often a blessing, but when such a question is asked, it can also be a curse.

Jill Wheeler, like many parents, has a task at hand. It, in many ways, will be a marathon in and of itself. The task is to reveal a very stark reality to her child. It is a reality very few children in America had to deal with until now.

Most children in America were born after September 11, 2001. Those who were alive on this day likely have no recollection of the heinous act which sparked the longest war in American history. The child of a veteran knows about today's war because they are physically living through it each time their mommy or daddy deploys, but those children are just one percent of the child population in the United States.

Some will not like the rest of this story, but it is a reality check, so I respectfully ask those reading to understand nothing written is intended to be insulting in any way.

Most Americans live a very sheltered life. Sure, we all must face certain bridges in our lives that others may never be capable of appreciating or understanding. But nothing is as horrific as facing the enemy in battle. The combat veteran has seen bullets fly, brothers killed or severely injured, have taken the lives of other human beings, etc. War truly is hell.

Less than one percent of the entire U.S. population actually serves in the U.S. Armed Forces. Less than nine percent living in the U.S. ever served in any conflict dating as far back as World War II. It is the veteran who understands the enemy and the overall horrors that come with this thing called war.

The recent bombings in Boston should serve as a reminder that the United States is in fact fighting a war. It should also serve as a reminder that the war is not just one being fought abroad, but also here inside the United States. When a nation engages in war, that means the entire nation and not just the service members.

For too long, the entire nation has not fought in today's war. Citizens united as one immediately after September 11th 2001. We were one nation willing to bring the fight to the enemy's lair. But quickly, more and more citizens moved away from the fight and started to live their old lives. In fact, many citizens have actually forgotten a war even continues today in places like Afghanistan.

Following the Boston atrocity, social media filled with comments related to graphic pictures that showed amputees as a result of the bombings. Many comments expressed disgust that anyone would actually show such pictures. "These images are completely inappropriate!" was often seen below the photos.

Within hours of Ambassador Chris Stevens' brutal murder in Benghazi, pictures could be seen of his limp body. No one commented about the inappropriateness behind such images. When security contractors were seen hanging from a bridge in Fallujah who cried about the inappropriateness toward showing such images?

Why did Americans not protest the images of American bodies killed or maimed yesterday but will quickly voice their disgust today? Was it because the war being fought by a very small percentage of Americans dominates overseas? Is it because many Americans simply failed to realize our nation continues to actually engage itself in a very real physical war which threatens each and every one of us?

Jill Wheeler, like many Americans, has a very difficult task ahead of her. She, like every American parent, must discuss with her children the reality of the world in which we live. She must explain to her children that yes, we as a nation actually are in a war. It is a war that has taken the lives of thousands of Americans. It is a war where a handful of selfless American warriors risk everything to keep the remainder of us safe at night. It is a war where many will forever be haunted with nightmares due to its reality.

To all those impacted by the horrific atrocity which unfolded in Boston, my prayers go out to you and your families. You are not alone in this fight. America will prevail.

Kerry Patton, a combat disabled veteran, is author of Contracted: America's Secret Warriors.