On Patriot Day we remember and honor those who perished in the attacks of September 11, 2001, but many young Americans, like my girls, have no memory of that calm Tuesday morning. They deserve to know more than simply a date in history marked by great loss, because the spirit of America survives.

When my oldest daughter first learned about September 11, 2001, she asked me to
explain an evil her innocence couldn’t comprehend. Her simple question brought tears to my eyes as I recalled the images etched in my mind. With a trembling voice, I offered her a basic summary.

Men who didn’t like America flew planes into buildings that represented what they hated most about our country. Two planes struck the Twin Towers, a third crashed into the Pentagon. If not for the heroes of Flight 93, the fourth plane may have hit the Capitol or the White House.

But Amelia, I told her – they failed. America isn’t in institutions. The spirit of America
lives in hearts of individuals, like you and me.

Then I read her the letter Mrs. Bush had penned to children more than a decade earlier, “September 11 changed our world. But with each story of sorrow and pain comes one of hope and courage…. Let us remember as Americans, we can be proud and confident that we live in a country that symbolizes freedom and opportunity to millions throughout the

The worst attack on America showed us the strength of her citizens. We learned of heroic sacrifices by first responders in New York and at the Pentagon. We heard about how bravery in the skies above Pennsylvania spared our country further devastation on the

The terror meant to tear us apart knit us together more closely. Generosity and kindness transcended perceived differences. Instead of strangers, we saw neighbors. We rediscovered the unity of purpose that builds bridges and tears down walls.

As we sought security at home and national defense abroad, wise leaders counseled us to remember who we are as Americans. Brave voices cautioned against allowing fear to justify policies or actions contrary to our values. We recommitted ourselves to the guiding principles of our democracy.

The passage of time increases the burden of responsibility for those of us who recall where we were on that bright blue morning. We vowed to never forget, but have we tired of remembering? We promised never to falter, but have we failed to live by the principles we sought to preserve?

September 11th calls us to a higher standard. Let us show our children the spirit of America by leading with integrity, speaking with civility, and wisely stewarding the gifts of freedom and democracy.

Our children are watching. They learn what we believe not only by memorizing the pledge of allegiance, but also by observing how we live.

If the America they see doesn’t reflect what we say we believe, we owe it to them – and to all those lost in defense of our country – to live differently. The world our children inherit tomorrow depends upon our choices today.

In the meantime, I’m lucky. My girls see an American hero every morning as he walks out the door in his uniform. Every weeknight at 5pm I know the spirit of America is alive when my girls and their friends stop playing to place their hand over their heart for the national anthem.

Katye Riselli is a writer and military spouse.  She previously served as speechwriter for
Mrs. Laura Bush and as a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.