I worry that the departure of American troops from Afghanistan will also mean the departure of their sacrifices from our collective American memory.
America’s current and former service members punctuated 20 years of American boots on the ground in Afghanistan with remarkable displays of valor and service.
American service members braved ISIS-K attacks so that Americans and Afghans alike could escape to freedom. Our warriors, clad in battle gear, tenderly consoled Afghan children. Veterans who left the battlefield long ago rushed to rescue their Afghan interpreters and allies. This bravery embodies the mission-first attitude our troops have held during the entirety of the global war on terrorism. All of them – and their families – deserve a place of healing on the National Mall commensurate with their heroism.
I say this as more than an ordinary concerned citizen.
In 2018, my husband, Army Major Brent Taylor, gave his life for our country in Afghanistan, leaving me and our seven children behind. Even in the dark nights that have followed, we’ve continued to honor his sacrifice – just as many Gold Star families have done. But I worry that the departure of American troops from Afghanistan will also mean the departure of their sacrifices from our collective American memory. I’m struck by the fact that none of my own children were alive when al-Qaida’s great acts of evil set in motion the American military response in Afghanistan we’ve just ended.
My kids understand why their dad insisted on answering the call to service, and why the events of the last few weeks are so significant. But I’m not confident other young people do, and I wonder if even those who are old enough to remember the Sept. 11 attacks might find themselves uncertain.
A memorial fitting their sacrifice
That’s why, now more than ever, our nation must honor all who served and sacrificed in the global war on terrorism with a memorial in the “Reserve” of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. – the same place where the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Vietnam War Memorial have been built. Our present-day service members and their families deserve a place of honor no less prominent.
Right now, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act – which will authorize construction in the National Reserve – is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. It should be passed without delay.
Crucially, this memorial will be a place of remembrance and healing for 20 years’ worth of surviving families like mine, including the U.S. military families newly suffering at the hands of an ISIS-K suicide bomber.
Additionally, veterans and their families confronting issues like permanent injuries, post-traumatic stress, and emotional anguish will also be well-served by a solemn ground where they can pray, remember, reflect, and lean on one another.
Their sacrifices were worth it
But it’s more than grief and loss that bind our families together. It’s also the hope that, because of our heroes’ courage, our fellow Americans will live securely, that American democratic ideals will endure, and American dreams can be fulfilled. In the end, the ultimate sacrifices like the one my husband and thousands of others have made throughout this global war on terrorism were worth it. Our combat operations in Afghanistan were not a waste. A memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., will make that clear to Americans both in and out of uniform.
The past few weeks have elicited many complex emotions in the American people, especially on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. I share many of the same frustrations others do, but I’m also overwhelmed with pride when I consider how nobly our troops performed their final mission in Afghanistan.
It’s been many years since the civilian community got such a vivid look at what service in America’s military entails in its hardships, and who our people are in their humanity. By dedicating a memorial on some of the most precious space in our nation’s capital, Americans will sustain the respect and appreciation for our service members that we have felt anew these past few weeks for generations to come.
Jennie Taylor is the Gold Star widow of Utah Army National Guard Major Brent Taylor and a member of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation Board of Advisors.