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Editor’s Note: Johnny “Joey” Jones enlisted in the Marines right after graduating from high school following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He was severely wounded in a bomb explosion in Afghanistan, losing both legs above the knee and suffering serious injuries to his right forearm and both wrists. He is now a Fox News contributor.

I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing and what went through my mind on Sept. 11, 2001 when I learned of the terrorist attacks on our country – just as millions of other Americans remember.

What I remember most is that the horror of it all – nearly 3,000 people killed – didn’t register, just didn’t sink in until later that week.

For those of you who’ve played football or other sports, you know that you eat, sleep and breathe it. I remember lying on my back in the Georgia heat sweating in my pads during high school football practice, looking up at the sky and seeing no planes flying, no exhaust trails.

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I remember thinking that after this one terrible event, football didn’t inspire, it didn’t motivate, it just didn’t mean as much to me.

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I realized in that moment that there were people working, training and fighting for something more than points on a scoreboard. They were fighting to preserve America’s freedom and our way of life. They were fighting for me, for my family, for my friends – for everyone in our country.

So for this high school sophomore, 9/11 gave me a reason and a purpose for my life. In the dust and rubble of this enormous tragedy came a uniting spirit of survival that spread across America – unparalleled in history since Pearl Harbor in my grandparents’ generation.

The Sept. 11 attacks were more than an act of war. They were an awakening for the entire free world.

We understand that some things are worth fighting for, including the amazing life America provides. We care, we believe and we act.

With a broken heart and a resilient spirit, America took the fight to an evil enemy. We showed the world that our nation was capable of righteous retaliation and that we were willing to fight for America’s freedom and to defend our nation.

We banded together and we found patriotism where it had been forgotten. We found pride in ourselves and our differences – understanding that our diversity is our strength – where perhaps ignorance and fear had lived for too long.

A small-town boy from Georgia, I raised my right hand and proudly joined the Marines, where I learned to love Americans of all races, religions and upbringings. Whether we were Republicans or Democrats, from big cities or small towns, from different regions, different races, rich or poor – none of it mattered. We were all simply and righteously Americans.

The people of the United States were truly united – and none more so than those of us who volunteered to serve in uniform in defense of the country we love.

Sadly, we’ve lost that unity in recent years, too often focusing on what divides us rather than the many things that unite us. But the flame of unity and patriotism still smolders and remains a beacon of hope. And I don’t believe that only tragedy can cause the flame to burn brightly once again and spark a burning desire to love and serve.

That’s why honoring and remembering those who perished on Sept. 11 has to be our purpose, our mission. To rub the sticks together and keep that flame of unity burning in all of us to honor and appreciate this entire country and what it stands for, and most importantly those men and women who fight to protect and keep it that way.

Honoring and remembering the sad day of Sept. 11, 2001 and all those who lost their lives has to be our purpose, our mission. By doing this we honor and appreciate our country and what it stands for – and most importantly, those brave patriots who have fought to protect us and keep us free.

We think back to the planes crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. We think back to the lives lost in combat.

But I’m a firm believer that life is for the living, and what’s most important is that as we remember and honor all who lost their lives, we remember that we are survivors. We keep that unifying flame burning, lighting the torch of liberty, heirs to all the patriots who came before us, preserving the American Dream and making it come alive.

We understand that some things are worth fighting for, including the amazing life America provides. We care, we believe and we act.

When I remember 9/11 and the life-changing injuries I suffered as a Marine in Afghanistan, I tell myself one thing: “Get up, get over it and get going.” I know we all get knocked down, but I’ve made a choice to be one of those who come back stronger and more determined than ever. Just as this resilient country has.

When history writes the story of my generation that came of age in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, I believe it will be a success story. A story of victory in the face of certain and evil adversity. Like every generation, we have been tested by hardship and tragedy. And we have triumphed.

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On the 18th anniversary of 9/11 we turn a special page – from a generation that experienced what was an unimaginable tragedy to a generation born from its ashes. This generation isn’t consumed with the resentment of seeing a horrific tragedy – instead, it embodies the resilience of surviving it.

Every single American alive on Sept. 11 is now an adult, and now has a vote and a voice in deciding what our country will become. From the rubble of defeat, 9/11 is now a coming-of-age story for the next generation of the leaders, doers, and change agents we need to ensure that America and America’s ideals will endure for all time.

As a combat veteran of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks, I’m proud to pass this torch to the post-9/11 generation.

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Perhaps for the first time since that solemn moment when the Twin Towers fell we can call this day a celebration – a celebration of the resilience and ideals of “liberty and justice for all” we honor with the Pledge of Allegiance.

America is a country worth fighting for, so we fought an enemy abroad. Let’s hope that in the years ahead we spend less time fighting with each other, and more time embracing the greatest country on Earth. Let’s be Americans first, and stand by each other with pride, patriotism and love.

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