After two decades of war, Gold Star families hold differing perspectives on Afghanistan withdrawal

September 11th Anniversary

Few could have predicted the United States would spend the next 20 years after the attack, mired in a War in Afghanistan.

For some who went, the images of the Twin Towers falling is what inspired their service. For the families of the fallen, the images of the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan have been hard to watch.

It’s been said Darren LaBonte lived three lifetimes in his 35 years: An Army Ranger, a suburban police officer and eventually a CIA operative in Afghanistan.

One of the 137 stars on the CIA’s Memorial Wall is for LaBonte, whose heroic and once secret story was shared by WGN in 2020.

“When that phone call came, I just dropped to my knees. I couldn’t breathe,” widow Racheal LaBonte said.

LaBonte and six other CIA operatives and contractors were killed when they were double-crossed in an attack dramatized in the movie ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’

The operatives were double-crossed by a doctor the CIA mistakenly trusted to bring them high-level intelligence in key al-Qaeda leaders.

It was September 11 that brought Darren LaBonte back to the battlefield.

“Darren wanted to re-enlist right away, to serve our country and protect American freedoms,” Racheal LaBonte said.

Racheal feels the US has now abandoned Afghanistan, the ideals America promised to provide its people and the Americans who didn’t make it home.

“All of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the lives that were lost – they were people who fought to keep those interests in place. It’s like they never existed,” LaBonte said.

In the Northwest Suburbs, Jim Frazier also carried the distinction and burden of being a Gold Star family member who lost a loved one in Afghanistan. He still remembers the day his boy left.

“He said, ‘it’s okay dad, we’re going to hunt down the guys who killed American citizens on our shores,'” Frazier said.

His son Jake was an Illinois Air National Guardsman who was on the frontlines with a Green Beret strike force early in the war, calling in airstrikes on high value targets.

As for America’s withdrawal, Frazier is glad the American military is out of harm’s way.

“Honestly what went through my head was: ‘ This should have been ten years ago.’ Once we eliminated bin Laden, I don’t know where our politicians get the idea nation building is a good idea,” Frazier said.

Two families with two perspectives on the end to the Afghanistan mission, one that ultimately claimed almost as many American lives as the original attack that inspired their loved ones to fight back for America.

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