As we approach the 18th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, we should never forget the loss of 2,977 innocent American lives. Many were simply at their desk and had no idea that Sept. 11 would be their last day on Earth, while others such as our brave first responders willingly sacrificed their lives so that others may live.

Sept. 11, 2001, brought us together as a nation against the common foe of terrorism, but unfortunately today both as a nation and here in the valley we are torn asunder by political strife, petty bickering, and partisanship – none of which contributes to moving this great nation forward.

I personally lost 27 good friends and co-workers in the Pentagon and think and pray for them and their families every day. They made the ultimate sacrifice proving with their lives that freedom truly is not free.

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, with our daughter and grandchildren. It was an experience I will never forget. Regardless of your political affiliation, I believe history will judge Ronald Reagan as one of our greatest presidents – he stood tall against our former adversary the former Soviet Union, thus ending the Cold War; he pulled the nation out of a deep recession; and most of all he made us (both Republicans and Democrats) proud to be Americans. It is hard to believe that in the short span since his death; rancor and divisiveness have unfortunately polarized our nation’s political system.

Ronald Reagan’s most endearing quality both as governor of California and as president of the United States was his innate ability as a leader to first listen to all sides of the issues, a quality sorely lacking in today’s politicians. Without compromising his principles, he was able to formulate a plan of action for the greater good. President Reagan not only reached across the aisle to work with political adversaries, but he made a conscious effort to reach across generations – then both the greatest generation and baby boomers. Unfortunately, today’s politicians attempt to appeal to only a small segment of our populace be they Millennials, Generation Xers, etc., etc.

As I departed the Reagan Library, I pondered what the future will be like for my grandchildren who will soon be young adults. Did my “shipmates” in the Pentagon sacrifice their lives for the political morass and gridlock that has gripped this nation for the last two years? I sincerely hope and pray their sacrifice was not in vain.

On the anniversary of this horrific event, let’s try to put aside our differences if only for a day and work together to find common ground for the good of the nation. Honor their deaths and remember the day because we have a duty to those who died – our duty is to one day bring America fully back to unity, life, and liberty.

James R. Poplar III, of Quicksburg, served with the U.S. government for over 40 years. He specialized in national security affairs at both Vanderbilt and the National Defense University.