As we approach the 19th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, we should never forget the loss of 2,977 innocent American lives. Many were simply at their desks and had no idea that Sept. 11 would be their last day on earth, while others such as brave first responders and the “let’s roll” passengers and crew of Flight 93 who willingly sacrificed their lives so others might live.

Sept. 11 brought us together as a nation against the common foe of terrorism, but unfortunately today as we approach this November’s election our nation is torn asunder by political strife and partisanship, none of which contributes to moving our great nation forward.

I lost 27 good friends and co-workers in the Pentagon and think and pray for them and their families every day. They made the ultimate sacrifice proving with their lives that freedom truly is not free.

Last summer my wife and I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., with our daughter, her husband, and our grandchildren. It was an experience I will never forget. Across political affiliation, I believe, history will judge Ronald Reagan as one of our greatest presidents.

He stood tall against our former adversary the former Soviet Union, thus ending the Cold War; he pulled the nation out of a deep recession; and most of all he made us, both Republicans and Democrats, proud to be Americans. It is hard to believe that in the short span since his death, rancor, divisiveness, vice, compromise, and misunderstanding have polarized our nation’s political system.

Reagan’s most endearing quality was his innate ability to first listen to all sides of the issues, a quality sorely lacking in today’s politicians. Without compromising his principles, he was able to formulate a plan of action for the greater good. If only today’s leaders on both sides of the aisle would follow his lead.

President Reagan not only reached across the aisle to work with political adversaries, but he made a conscious effort to reach across generations — then both the greatest generation and baby boomers. Unfortunately, today’s politicians attempt to appeal to only a small segment of our populace, be they millennials, Generation “Xers,” etc.

As I departed the Reagan Library, I pondered what the future will be like for my grandchildren, who will soon be young adults. Did my “shipmates” in the Pentagon sacrifice their lives for the political morass and gridlock that has gripped this nation for the last three years? I sincerely hope and pray their sacrifice was not in vain.

On the anniversary of this horrific event, let us try to put aside our differences, if only for a day, and work together to find common ground for the good of the nation. Honor their death and always remember this day because we have a duty to those who died. Our duty is to one day bring America fully back to unity, life, and liberty.

James R. Poplar III, capt. USN (ret.), lives in Quicksburg.

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