Service & Sacrifice: Remembering 9/11

Monday marks the 22-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America.

The 9/11 Tribute in Light as seen from Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

By Tom Sileo Published on September 8, 2023

Remembering 9/11

To almost any American who was alive in 2001, September 11th will never be just another day. Like the Battle of Fort Sumter, Pearl Harbor and the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, 9/11 was a defining moment in history that forever changed our country and the world.

For all the anger and division that dominates our society 22 years later, 9/11 serves as perhaps the most recent example of our country being almost completely united. We can only pray that it wasn’t the last.

First and foremost, we must always remember the 2,996 people killed in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon and United Flight 93. We also must pray for their families. We also humbly ask God to comfort the thousands of 9/11 survivors who suffered injury, illness and post-traumatic stress. While 9/11 might seem like a long time ago to many of us, these victims and their families live with the attack’s scars every single day.

The September 11th attacks also launched the global war on terrorism, which — even though most politicians and pundits either ignore or won’t admit it — continues to this day in the Middle East, Africa and around the world.

During the almost 20-year war in Afghanistan, 2,465 U.S. troops lost their lives, with another 20,662 wounded, according to icasualties.org. In Iraq, where U.S. forces fought from 2003 to 2011 before returning in 2014, 4,586 American troops were killed and 32,445 injured.

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Since beginning to write exclusively about our nation’s military in 2010, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing hundreds of service members, veterans and families of the fallen. One of those Gold Star families is from Staten Island, New York, which is just a short ferry ride from Ground Zero.

In 2015, I wrote my very first column for The Stream about Bob and Linda Ollis’ son, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis. Ten years ago last month, Staff Sgt. Ollis made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan while shielding a Polish soldier from a suicide bomb blast. For his heroism, Mike was posthumously awarded the U.S. military’s Distinguished Service Cross and Poland’s highest award that can be bestowed upon a foreign soldier.

Earlier this year, I finished writing a book about Mike called I Have Your Back: How an American Soldier Became an International Hero. While researching the book, which comes out on June 4, 2024, I quickly realized what a profound impact 9/11 had on Mike, who could see and smell smoke billowing from lower Manhattan as a 13-year-old boy sitting in school.

“I see the terror that hurts the city,” young Mike later wrote in his journal. “I hear the screams from the towers.”

9/11 solidifed Mike’s desire to follow his father’s footsteps into the Army and avenge the attacks on his city and country. Four years before volunteering to serve, however, Mike designed this inspiring image on his school computer showing first responders rescuing a 9/11 victim trapped in the World Trade Center’s rubble.

9/11 - Michael Ollis

A 9/11-inspired image designed by future U.S. Army soldier Michael Ollis.

“I always wanted to be a soldier from when I was a kid. It seemed like a cool thing to do,” Mike wrote to Staten Island schoolchildren in 2007 while training in Germany. “But when 9/11 happened, I knew from then on that I was going to be a soldier no matter what.

“I enjoy being a soldier and I do not look back from joining the Army,” Mike continued. “When times get tough and I miss my family, I know I’m doing this for them and for our country.”

During the last seven years of his life, the New York City native deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. He was killed less than three weeks before his 25th birthday.

After 9/11, Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis and an entire generation of volunteer warriors raised their right hands and stepped forward to defend our freedom. Whether or not you agree with the politics of the wars they fought, nothing can diminish the sacrifices these American heroes and their families made because — as Mike wrote — they wanted to keep the rest of us safe.

We will never forget the American heroes who valiantly served on and after September 11, 2001. May God comfort the countless victims and families who have suffered and sacrificed because of 9/11.

“I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” — President George W. Bush.

Middle East

With radical Islamic terrorism still a danger to the homeland 22 years after 9/11, nobody is closer to the fight than the 900 U.S. military personnel deployed to Syria. Every day, these warriors confront ISIS and other terrorist groups, as well as threats from hostile regimes like Iran and Russia.

Even as U.S. and coalition troops continue to support and train anti-ISIS fighters in Syria, the situation seemingly gets more complicated by the day. This Associated Press article explains how two rival factions — both backed by the United States — are now fighting each other in eastern Syria.

“If the fighting endures, it could deepen Kurdish-Arab rifts,” the AP’s Bassem Mroue writes. “That could open the door for [ISIS] remnants to attempt a comeback.”

The 900 U.S. troops serving in Syria and 2,500 in neighboring Iraq are facing daily dangers that are largely invisible to the American public. We owe these brave men and women our fervent gratitude and constant prayers.

Europe

The Pentagon is deciding whether to replace 4,300 U.S. troops currently stationed in Eastern Europe when they return home early next year, according to NBC News.

“Some Pentagon officials argue that the troop presence has not deterred Russia and is not necessary, and that the troops and funds could be used elsewhere, according to the three defense officials,” NBC’s report said. “Other U.S. military officials have argued that the continued presence is important to show support for NATO and allies, and to ensure Russia knows the United States is not turning away from Ukraine, the officials said.”

Meanwhile, many of the more than 100,000 U.S. military personnel deployed to Europe are participating in combat drills throughout the continent. The X post embedded above shows U.S., French and Romanian forces training together in Romania, while this U.S. Army article outlines large-scale tank training exercises underway in Poland.

Please keep all American troops stationed in Europe in your prayers, along with their families here at home.

Coming Home

A group of U.S. Air Force airmen made it home from their deployment to Africa just in time to see their loved ones on Labor Day.

Military Home from Africa

A U.S. Air Force airman hugs her daughter upon returning to North Kingstown, Rhode Island, from a deployment to Africa on September 4, 2023.

Welcome home, heroes! Thank you for serving our country overseas.

 

Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is the author of the forthcoming I Have Your Back, the recently released Be Bold and co-author of Three Wise MenBrothers Forever8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on X @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.

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