Seventeen years ago this week, the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 that went down in Somerset County, Pa., brought our country together — first in shock and disbelief, and soon after in grief, and then with a common purpose.

That purpose, while easily forgotten in a time of relative peace, was fresh in the minds of Americans in the days and weeks following 9/11. As President George W. Bush said in his Oct. 8, 2001, address to the nation, “Since Sept. 11, an entire generation of young Americans has gained new understanding of the value of freedom and its cost in duty and in sacrifice.”

Now, 17 years later, a lifetime for many young Americans, we look back on the cost of three wars — one in Afghanistan, which continues to this day; another in Iraq that officially came to an end in December 2011; and a third that takes place with the assistance of our allies whenever and wherever terrorists plot to dismantle the architecture of liberal democracy and claim innocent lives.

Since 9/11, the “cost in duty and in sacrifice” has been steep. As we wrote this Memorial Day, “More than 2.7 million Americans have deployed since 9/11 in support of the global war on terrorism, the longest war in our nation’s history. And among them, close to 7,000 men and women in uniform have given their lives safeguarding democracy at home and abroad.”

Today, as the names of the nearly 3,000 men, women and children from more than 90 countries who perished on 9/11 are read aloud, our thoughts and prayers will be with the victims’ families. But our thoughts and prayers also will be with the thousands of military families who lost family members — son or daughter, wife or husband, mother or father — in the long struggle to defend freedom.

At the same time, we want to acknowledge the brave men and women — the veterans of our post-9/11 wars — who have returned from foreign soil and are adjusting to civilian life. Many carry the physical wounds of war — an amputated limb or traumatic brain injury. Others suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

As a nation, we need to do a better job of recognizing and addressing these mental illnesses, and making sure our veterans get the health care and job opportunities they deserve. As Bush said in his 2017 book, Portraits of Courage, “It was courageous to volunteer in the face of danger, and it’s just as courageous to talk about the invisible wounds of war.”

Yet at the same time, it’s important to acknowledge what the millions of post-9/11 veterans have given back to our society — as civic, business and political leaders — after leaving military service.

So, this 9/11, we remember those civilians who lost their lives on that horrible September day, and the first responders who saved so many. But we also thank and honor those who have defended our freedom in the 17 years since, and those who continue to serve humanity — in countless ways — after leaving military service.

 

A version of this editorial first appeared in The Dallas Morning News.