CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Monday marks 22 years since 9/11, and people across the country, including some in Central Illinois, are making sure the bravery of first responders is never forgotten.

American Legion Post 559 in Champaign brought people together to show their appreciation for those who lost their lives while helping others. For one organizer, it’s not about who was there, but the people who couldn’t be.

“Every time we talk about 9/11, I can remember where I was exactly, and how everybody ran and gathered around the TV and it just didn’t really seem real,” said American Legion Commander Cheryl Walker.

It was a day first responders sacrificed their lives to save others: 343 firefighters, 23 NYPD police officers, 27 officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department and thousands more. Walker said the anniversary of Sept. 11 is a chance to remember what’s important. Junior Vice Commander Robin Vandiver agrees.

“Remember that America went through a tragic ordeal and that we lost so many great men and women,” she said.

Vandiver said there was one positive to come from that sad day in history.

“There was no Republicans, Democrats, there was none of that,” she said. “We were all Americans.”

“It didn’t matter what your race was, where you came from, what neighborhood you lived in,” Walker said.

It’s also about the military members who didn’t make it back from war. Walker, who served in the Army, earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. For her, serving in Iraq was about the people she met, especially those no longer with us.

“It was like one of the best and worst experiences of my life, but I’m still here,” Walker said. “I just think about the people who didn’t come home. Those are people we should talk about because I’m here.”

To Walker, the phrase “never forget” are words to live by.

“It’s important to remember the people that gave the ultimate sacrifice, and every day I want to remind people,” she said.

Walker said her unit from Paris lost five people in Iraq. One of the five who was killed in action was a close friend of hers, and inspired Walker to start an American Legion Post at the University of Illinois.