PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Twenty years ago, 2,996 people lost their lives in planned airplane strikes on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash of United 93.
Three days later, Congress authorized the use of military force to pursue those responsible for the events of Sept. 11, 2001. President George W. Bush signed the AUMF into law Sept. 18, 2001.
“I was a freshman in high school when it happened,” said Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Stewart, a senior culinary noncommissioned officer in the Oregon National Guard. “It made me feel like I needed to serve a purpose — and putting on the uniform made me fulfill that purpose.”
On Aug. 31, amid a withdrawal hastened by a lightning Taliban offensive that swept the country, President Joseph Biden declared an end to hostilities in Afghanistan.
“Going into the Middle East right after being attacked, we were looking to hold those accountable that attacked us and killed our people,” said Sharon Byrne, who served as a chemical operations specialist soldier. “We’re going to go comb the sands and the mountains, and we will find these people and bring them to justice and eradicate this evil.”
In just weeks, more than 100,000 people were evacuated by aircraft as the Taliban took control of Kabul. The round-the-clock airlift was one of the largest such operations in human history — and it came at the end of America’s longest war since Vietnam.
“When we come back, we come back completely different,” said Alex Danielli, a former civil affairs marine. “Every Marine you’re going to talk to, we got scars, but we’re not sorry — we’re proud. I’m proud of my scars because that means we did something for the country.”
“There needs to be more backend care for the people who’ve gone through these traumatic experiences,” said Jesse Skoubo, a former Navy cryptologist. “We shouldn’t be trying to get into conflicts if we’re still not able to take care of the people who are damaged from or conflicted or traumatized by the last one.”
For the first time since the dust settled around two fallen towers, the United States is not at war in Afghanistan.
While most Americans will never forget the events of 9/11, those who fought in the Global War on Terror will never forget the 20 years since.
The KOIN Podcast Network is helping to tell their stories. We spoke with four local veterans about their connection to 9/11, the human cost of a generation at war — and after 20 years, where we can go from here.
“Initially, I was all gung-ho about going to war to get justice for what happened during September 11 and wipe out this evil in the desert,” Byrne said. “And 20 years later, all this information comes to light and we start seeing the big picture and it makes you, it makes me question.”