OPINION  — I heard about it on the radio.

The fall morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was a regular day driving in my truck to the family farm. Until it wasn’t. The first reports were coming through my pickup truck’s speakers: an airplane has flown into the World Trade Center in New York City.

When I got to the farm, I rushed into the office to turn on the TV. I watched in horror as the reports I heard on the radio were given a face and a name — terrorism.

What followed that morning was the most devastating terror attack on American soil this country has ever seen. New York. Washington. Were it not for the brave efforts of the passengers on Flight 93, who knows what else could have been a target.

America lost 2,977 innocent lives that day, including 343 firefighters and 23 police officers. These heroes redefined courage. They faced the most harrowing rescue effort in American history and rushed in while others were running out.

The message was clear as I watched the TV screen in disbelief. The world would never be the same.

In the 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, we have sent our best and brightest to combat terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

When the attacks happened, I remember thinking I am so glad I live in South Dakota. Sadly, our state has not gone untouched by the War on Terror. South Dakota lost 36 patriots serving overseas. Nearly 7,000 of our bravest Americans died serving their country. So many of South Dakota’s sons and daughters have also served, returned, and built lives here – some will carry the scars from their defense of our freedom for the rest of their lives.

This September 11th, communities across the US will honor the fallen heroes from that infamous day. Veterans and family members will gather to honor the heroes lost in the War on Terror that followed.

In the wake of so many sacrifices, we have sadly come to this 20th anniversary with scenes of chaos and crisis flashing out from our screens again. Afghanistan, the nation that shielded those behind the attacks in 2001, is on the brink of civil war — again. The freedom and opportunities that once gave hope to many Afghans are being torn down by the Taliban and insurgent terrorist factions like ISIS-K. Although US troops are gone, War and terror have not withdrawn from Afghanistan.  How we ensure that country does not again become a haven for those who would strike America will be the challenge of our next generation.

In classrooms across our state, this next generation of young Americans is just beginning to experience a world without American troops fighting wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. But we are far from peace. The pain of losing 13 servicemembers in the attack at the airport in Kabul has not even begun to heal.

This 20th anniversary is marked with the same costly lesson that every generation must learn: freedom isn’t free. There are brave men and women who pay the cost. We must never forget their sacrifice, and this year and every year on 9/11, we will always give respect to those who answer the call to serve. America is safer because of their sacrifice.

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