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The 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks is an opportunity for us, together as one nation, to reflect on and remember the thousands of innocent Americans we lost that day. It is an opportunity for us to remember the sacrifices our brave service members and their families have made every day since.

When our country was attacked, we fought back. We are forever indebted to the men and women who joined that fight to protect us. In any way that we can, we must ensure their lives and their stories are never forgotten. Below are tributes from the families of fallen service members, who were inspired to join our military after the events of 9/11, about who these heroes are and what the 20th anniversary means to their loved ones.

Ryan Manion lost her brother, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, USMC, when he was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper while aiding and drawing fire away from his wounded teammates in April of 2007.  His courageous acts allowed every member of his patrol to survive. Now, as President of the Travis Manion Foundation, Ryan has dedicated her life to a national movement focused on assisting veterans and families of the fallen to take the next step in their personal journeys, and inspiring the next generation of leaders.

     1st Lt. Travis Manion, USMC

“[September 11th] is a day to come together as a community under a common goal to never forget. That’s important for my family and all gold star families who made the ultimate sacrifice,” Ryan says. “But equally important, it’s a way to teach the next generation — many of whom were born after Sept 11, 2001 — about what happened that day and about all of the brave first responders and military veterans that risked their lives out of love for their country and their fellow Americans.”

We are grateful to Ryan and the entire foundation for sharing their stories with the country so that we always remember.

Stories of our Fallen Heroes

Paul E. Dumont Jr., Sgt, U. S. Army

From his brother, Adam Dumont: “When the events on September 11, 2001 took place, I had not yet been born. I grew up hearing about the horrible events that unfolded that day and knew that my older brother had joined the Army, in part, because of these events. I never would have imagined that my brother would end up losing his life as the result of a war in which I didn’t know much about. Paul lost his life on August 19th 2009 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was an amazing son, brother, husband and friend and the world is a little less bright without him in it. As we honor the fallen for the 20-year memorial, I think it is vital to remember that freedom does not come free. This country is worth fighting for and I’m proud to be the brother of a hero who was willing to sacrifice his life in order to protect America and all the freedoms that go along with this great country. May we never forget the fallen, honor the heroes and always support our military and first responders.”

Lance Corporal Jeramy Ailes, USMC

From his mother, Lana Ailes: “9/11 to me, brings back memories of what happened that day, as well as remembering why our son, Lance Corporal Jeramy Ailes, signed up to become a U.S. Marine. He was deployed to Iraq for two tours. Jeramy learned of the poor living conditions in Iraq, and gave out some of his own money to families in need. He asked us to send him soccer balls, so he could hand them out to the kids, remembering his love for soccer, and giving them something fun to focus on. He came across a father walking beside his small daughter who was carrying a heavy hay bale, her face beet red, while the father walked empty handed. Jeramy said a few words to the father, and in the end, the father was carrying the heavy bale. Jeramy died on November 15, 2004, going house to house in Fallujah, Iraq, in search of dangerous insurgents. His words to a hometown friend on his birthday twelve days before he died were: ‘If anything happens to me, or if I die, tell my parents that I love them, tell everyone that I love them, and that I am doing this for the people back home.'”

Benjamin S. Hines, SSGT, USMC

From his fiancé, Anna Steg: “Ben had always wanted to become a Marine and laid down his life for God, Family and Country. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in October 2006 and had served honorably for 13 years. He was always a selfless individual who put the needs of others before his own. In addition to being a Marine reservist, Ben was also a student and worked full-time as a Cyber Security Analyst for Jacobs. He was also a fan of many things to include Star Wars, Black Rifle Coffee, Juventus & all Pittsburgh sports teams. Now that we have withdrawn from Afghanistan after 20 years and the way things unfolded, I just have to say, Ben’s sacrifice was not made in vain. Nor was the service of our brave men and women in uniform, who have sacrificed so much these past 20 years in Afghanistan. They did their job. They helped keep America safe. Thank you is truly not enough.”

Army Cpl. Luigi Marciante Jr.

From his sister, Enza Balestrieri: “Luigi “Louie” was a beloved husband, father, son, and hero to all who knew him. Physically gone but not forgotten, our lives are richer having known him, and his presence will sustain us forever, not only in our hearts but in the eyes of his son. A newlywed four months into his first Iraq tour, Marciante had been given an 18-day leave so he could return home for the birth of his son and Louie soaked in every minute with Lorenzo. When he donned his fatigues again on August 23rd for his flight back to Iraq, Louie could only talk about when he’d be able to return home for good, raise his son and fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer. He was killed in action on September 20th, 2007 in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, of wounds, sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. [On September 11th], I will think of my nephew who never had an opportunity to know his father, my brother. He reads in history books about 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and I wonder if he has a moment to pause and think, my dad fought and died for our country.”

James Patrick (“J.P.”) Blecksmith, 2nd Lieutenant, USMC

From his brother, Charles A. “Alex” Blecksmith: “J.P. was a 2003 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He had unflappable integrity and perseverance – traits that almost made him destined to be a Marine. He was a gifted athlete, a loyal friend and a fierce patriot. He was a focused leader and never took his leadership responsibilities lightly. To J.P., being a Marine was not about him – the medals, the ribbons or the promotions – it was about his Marines and serving this great Country. His greatest satisfaction was putting his Marines in a position to be successful, and then seeing their accomplishments. As a second class Midshipman when 9/11 happened, J.P. was quoted in a local Los Angeles area paper – ‘Coming to a service academy, you know that in a time of crisis, you have to step up and defend your Country. That’s my job, and I take pride in that. I can’t ever forget what is aw on the TV screen – I don’t think anyone can. If it means going to war for those people [that died], I’m willing to do that.'”

Captain Jesse Melton III, U.S. Marine Corps 

From his mom, Janice Marie Chance: “Jesse was KIA on 9/9/2008 while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan – Operation Enduring Freedom. He was in a Humvee that rode over an IED. Jesse was off duty, but agreed to take the place of a fellow Marine. Two days later, that Marine’s baby was born. ‘Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13). Prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, he told [me], ‘I want to go change the world, make a difference and bring God glory.’ He received thirteen military service awards, medals, and commendations during his career.”

Chris Amoroso, Port Authority Police Officer

From his sister, Jess Ross: “Chris was the guy to give you the shirt off his back. His crystal blue eyes and his crooked smile were 2 of my favorite things about him. He was the best big brother I could have ever asked for. I particularly miss running into his arms and him throwing me into the air every single time I would see him. I was 12 when 9/11 happened and he was 29. Chris loved being a cop, he tried 3 times to pass the academy before he actually got in, and when he did, he was the most excited! I miss him more than ever this time of year and with the circumstances of this year, I really wish he was here, he always knew the right things to say.”

Kirk Allen Straseskie, SGT, USMC

From his father, John Straseskie: “SGT Straseskie died on 19 May, 2003 while attempting to rescue the crew of a Marine Sea Knight helicopter that crashed into a flooded canal. Kirk died as he lived; he was a doer who died doing what came naturally…helping others. The 20th Anniversary of 9/11 is an opportunity to teach a whole new generation of Americans about the innocent lives lost as well as those who fought, sacrificed and died for their fellow Americans in need that day and in the wars since. It is also important for this new generation to learn about September 12th, 2001 and beyond. We were a galvanized and truly UNITED nation, something our enemies would rather we forget.”

Cpt. John Gaffaney

From his wife, Christine D. Gaffaney: “John spent over 20+ years in both the Navy and National Guard retiring as a Major, wanting to focus on his civilian career as a Supervisor for Adult Protective Services for the County of San Diego, where he was an advocate for seniors and persons with disabilities that were victims of abuse and neglect. After 9/11, John wanted to return to active service with the National Guard Regiment because guardsmen were constantly being mobilized and he wanted to go with them. He had always felt guilty for not serving when the nation and the regiment needed him and was compelled by an intense sense of duty and honor to his country and his fellow soldiers and wanted to lend his knowledge and expertise to help in any way he could those who had suffered emotional wounds of war. John successfully regained his commission and due to his skills and medical degree, he was assigned to the Medical Service Corps as an R.N./Psychiatric nurse. John had several passions including his family, baseball, and all things military. He had an undying loyalty, love, and devotion to his family, his colleagues, and his friends.”

Joshua P. Rodgers, Sgt, Army

From his mother, Vonda Rodgers: “Sgt Josh Rodgers was in 1st grade when 9/11 happened. That event shaped the conversations we had as a family, the games he played as a child, and the dreams he would fulfill as an adult. Josh joined the Army in 2013 knowing he wanted to be a member of the elite US Army Rangers. He proudly lived out the Ranger Creed as a member of C Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Ft Benning, Georgia. Josh was killed in action on April 27, 2017 during a raid of an ISIS-K compound in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan…The 1% of our nation that have stepped up since that day, knowing they would be sacrificing their personal freedoms to defend our constitution, must be acknowledged. Those that gave their lives must be remembered.”

Christopher George Campbell

From his sister, Cindy Campbell: “Hero. How does one describe your first playmate, your first friend, your first foe? If you’re lucky, you circle back around and end up with a lifelong friend. [Chris] was a happy kid and seemed to be good at everything! Chris loved surfing, the ocean and was the first person I heard talk about caring for our greatest resource and how those who litter on our beaches are creating so much havoc for those who call the sea home. He loved the Oakland A’s. He joined the Navy to see the world. Then 9-11 happened. He deployed to Afghanistan many times. He received an award for helping over 100 Afghan women and children to safety. A few days after my brother was killed, I was told he left behind an incredible last request. In the event of his death, he hoped 100,000 PEOPLE would donate to an organization (Wounded Warrior Project) that provides programs and services to the men and women who do return to their families. His final mission hasn’t yet been accomplished but what a legacy to leave! This is my brother, my friend, my HERO! I’ll love him forever and miss him a lifetime!”

Commander Job Wilson Price Navy SEAL Commander

From his sister, Bronwyn De Maso: “My brother was committed to the war on terrorism being kept off American soil. Like many, my brother answered the call to serve and protect the United States of America and did so day in and day out until his death in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan on December 22, 2012. I am very proud that because of the men and women of our military, we have not had another 9/11 on our soil. That is their legacy and I am proud of each and every soldier who answered the call to serve and protect that fateful September Day on September 11th, 2001, and continued to do so for the next 20 years. My fellow Gold Star Family members and I all have a first hand knowledge of what sacrifice truly means. We have experienced sadness and now live a life without our loved ones who died as a result of the War on Terror. We find comfort in each other and we continue to honor the sacrifices of our loved ones by saying their names and never forgetting their sacrifice.”

Cpt. Andrew Pedersen-Keel

From his mother, Helen M. Keiser-Pedersen: “‘I am still learning’, wrote Michaelangelo. This quote embodies my son’s enthusiasm for life! As a West Point graduate, he had to do a lot of learning at the Academy. His first deployment was to Maiwand, Afghanistan as a 23-year-old who must lead soldiers, learn the culture of Afghanistan and learn about war firsthand. Learning how to be a USARMY Ranger, learning to successfully join the 1Bn/ 3rd Special Forces Group, learning Pashto, and learning about never ending training. Learning how to build a home, learning to share all that he had with whomever was in need. Learning to practice his Catholic faith wherever he lived. Learning that his second deployment would be fierce. Always learning. But always knowing to say ‘Mom, you have nothing to worry about!'”

PFC Andrew T. Engstrom

From his mother, Katie Schmidt: “He was and IS the kindest, most loving person I am proud to not only call my son but now my hero. Andrew would give you the shirt off his back rather than see you go without. He is greatly missed by his brother and myself. Andrew was a sophomore in high school when the attacks happened, and I remember him coming home and telling me he wanted to join the military because his beloved country was attacked.”

Sgt. Gene L. Lamie Army 

From his mother, Linda Lamie: “Gene loved to fish, hunt, and kick up the dirt roads in his truck. He always wanted to serve his country and the Army was his choice. I, like so many, remember watching glued to a television set praying this wasn’t happening. I could imagine those women holding their children on those airplanes. The fear the pain they must have felt. I had a moment when I realized Gene was in the Army. America was being attacked. America would retaliate. The Army would be a part of that retaliation. Gene would be apart of that retaliation. The fear gripped me. The shock took me to my knees. I went to a church to pray. I prayed for those on the airplanes, those in the towers, those heroes who ran into the towers, the families of all of those and for the Military who would soon be in harms way. I prayed for our Country. Here today 20 years later my prayers haven’t changed.”

Jonathon Hostetter

From his mother, Lisa Hostetter: “Our oldest son, Jonathon, was killed August 23, 2013 in Afghanistan by IED. A child of God and one day we will be reunited in Heaven. 6 ft 5, blue eyes, and blonde hair — loved and liked by everyone who had the privilege to know him. Our boy, his brother’s protector. He made us parents and we are truly blessed to have had a close, loving relationship with him. His smile was contagious and his heart was full of servant hood and a love for life. He received many awards for his talents, but his biggest reward was given the day he met Jesus. I miss his hugs and his ‘hello mama.’ My Johnny Boy!!!!”

Stephen John Sutherland

From his wife, María Guadalupe Sutherland: “We met while his barracks were under renovation and his unit moved into my building. We started as best of friends and after hanging out and him helping out with my two boys from prior marriage for 6 months, we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. The little while we shared together were 7 unforgettable years. Still way too short. His life ended 5 days after his 33rd birthday, while in Iraq on November 5, 2012…We are a free country because of the sacrifices made by many on that awful Tuesday. We are United by our sacrifice and stand stronger than ever. We will honor and remember all who died that day and those who joined the armed forces and perished defending our way of life.”

SSG Marc Small, US Army Special Forces

From his mother, Mary MacFarland: “Marc joined the Army not long after 9/11 to make a difference. He studied and worked hard to earn the coveted Green Beret. At the time of his death, Marc was the village “doctor” in Afghanistan caring for and helping 30-40 Afghan civilians a day. He loved helping the underprivileged and he died doing what he loved. The United States was completely changed after the attacks on our soil. I will always remember that day and the days after watching the first responders and many others helping one another. As sad as this time was, we were a nation joined as one.”

SSG Timothy McGill

From his sister, Megan McGill-West: “He was a Marine, a firefighter and a Green Beret. We lost him to a green on blue attack in Afghanistan on 9/21/13. He stood tall at 6’7” but had a soft and kind voice. Our gentle giant is missed so much every day. September 11th holds a void in my heart for all those innocent lives we lost and for the heroes lost in the war that ensued. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who answered the call and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Never forgotten!”

SPC Etienne Murphy

From his mother, Sheila Mitchell-Murphy: “Specialist Etienne Murphy entered the Army at Fort Benning, GA in 2013, where he completed One Station Unit Training (OSUT) as an Infantryman. He was then assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York. After his initial service at Fort Drum, Specialist Murphy desired a greater challenge, so he volunteered for service with the Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment in October 2015. He attended the Army’s Basic Airborne Course and the rigorous Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP) at Fort Benning, GA. Upon graduation, he earned the title of “Army  Ranger” and was assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah GA, where he served as an Anti-Tank Gunner…9/11 has left a hole in my irreparable heart, it has made so many Gold Star Families. It has changed so many people’s lives who now have to try to live without their loved ones. It is a somber reminder of how quickly your life can be turned into a daily living nightmare. I just pray that this nation can one day truly come together in love and unity to support those who have lost someone because of 9/11.”

LCPL Eugene C. Mills, III, USMC

From his mother, Theresa Marie Karlson: “Gene loved his country as much as his family and decided when the twin towers fell on September 11, 2001 that he would join the military and its mission to defend our Country against terrorism. At the age of 17, he went to boot camp at Parris Island, SC to become a United States Marine…Gene is a son, a brother, a warrior and a hero, bravely offering the ultimate sacrifice to protect his country and to make this world a better place…I will always remember that fateful day when our Country was attacked by evil terrorists. But I will also remember our fellow Patriots who came to the aid of those victims who needed them most during this horrible tragedy.”

Senior Airman Jonathan Antonio Vega Yelner, USAF

From his mother, Yolanda “Jolie” Vega: “Jonathan (known as Jake or Vega), volunteered to serve a 365-day deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as a driver for the Kapisa and Parwan Provinical Reconstruction Team…[9/11] is a reminder that we had a generation of young people who recognized the benefits of growing up in this country and felt they needed to express their thanks. They joined the military, fire fighters, EMTS, hospitals, law enforcement to protect all of us.”

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