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A special hourlong episode of WGLT's newsmagazine Sound Ideas. These stories originally aired Sept. 10, 2021, near the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Afghanistan War, 9/11 Are Entwined In B-N Veteran's Mind

Smoke rises after an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 29, 2021.
Haroon Sabawoon
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Smoke rises after an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 29, 2021.

Some people have moved beyond the anguish of the day of 9/11. For others, the pain is raw and new two decades later. For many 9/11 is history that has shaped the nation. Others believe it continues to echo in our national image and policies.

For the commander of the John H. Kraus Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post 944 in Bloomington, the 20th anniversary this year brings together elements of all those things.

Travis Wheet served as a National Guard infantryman from 2004 to 2010 and did duty in the Kunar province of east Afghanistan. Wheet said 9/11 and the history since have shaped his beliefs about what governments should do.

"We responded to an event where a lot of people died by creating an event where a lot of people died for two decades. I mean, define dark irony."
Travis Wheet, veteran

For Wheet, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 is intertwined with the recent exit of the U.S. from Afghanistan. The anniversary makes him remember the tremendous loss for humanity when the twin towers fell and he said it makes him sick to think about it then and now. But Wheet said he also has some of that same sick feeling in thinking about the lives that have been lost since then.

“Really, at the end of the day we responded to an event where a lot of people died by creating an event where a lot of people died for two decades. I mean, define dark irony,” said Wheet.

Many have criticized the U.S. entry into Iraq after 9/11. Few criticized the country’s entry into Afghanistan, though there is intense debate about how long U.S. soldiers should have stayed, or what the country should have tried to accomplish there.

Wheet said it was hard not to want to do anything in response to the attacks, but hindsight raises questions about what were the appropriate actions.

“If the argument was to go hunt (Osama) Bin Laden, that mission ended a decade ago and yet here we are just getting out another decade after that. It really makes you wonder either what the initial mission was, or if the mission changed and spoiled after the fact, and regardless it hasn’t gone well."

Wheet said the anti-war camp in the U.S. greatly needs a revival and people in that camp would point out the impact U.S. actions as a country have on other countries.

“Countless civilians have met their deaths and it has only made the United States look like their own version of someone to point the finger at. There are people there that have never heard of 9/11 and, all of a sudden, there is a foreign government occupying their country and their family members are dead. That’s not good for anybody,” said Wheet.

Wheet said the political leaders of today and tomorrow who might need to face or respond to a similar defining event should listen to history full stop.

In the wake of 9/11, there was a sense of national unity. Since then, the response to the attacks has been divisive in the public mind. Wheet said he would like to think there is a way to move beyond those divisions.

“We are all human beings and that’s what we should really be focused on, and that simply means caring for one another, no matter what part of the country you are from, what religion you are, what race you are, there is nothing more important than being civil human beings to one another and loving each other and that is something that ultimately has to win. It must win. It’s really the only thing that’s going to keep us around is love for humanity, and I think we can all rally around that,” said Wheet.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.