Wounded war hero Jaco Van Gass admits it was “emotional” to watch news coverage of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks and believes the world can be “proud” of its response to the atrocities.
Al Qaida’s 2001 assault on the United States, including flying hijacked aeroplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, caused almost 3,000 deaths and prompted military intervention in Afghanistan, during which Van Gass suffered life-changing injuries while serving with the Parachute Regiment.
The South Africa-born veteran has rebuilt his life as an elite cyclist and was busy winning two golds and a bronze on his Paralympic Games debut at Tokyo 2020 as the Taliban’s recapture of Kabul dominated news headlines.
His return home from Japan came just days before Saturday’s commemoration of 9/11.
“It’s the symbolic event that put everything into motion,” he told the PA news agency, speaking at Sunday’s National Lottery ParalympicsGB Homecoming.
“I’ve watched some of it (the anniversary coverage) and I can only send my condolences to those that lost loved ones.
“It’s emotional to watch it but we can also be proud of how we have moved on and look back on what we have achieved in the last 20 years since that incident.”
Van Gass lost his left arm at the elbow after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2009.
He required 11 operations and intense rehabilitation having also suffered a collapsed lung, shrapnel wounds, punctured internal organs, a broken tibia and a fractured knee.
Yet the 35-year-old has no regrets about his British Army career and feels missions in Afghanistan were worthwhile.
“I stayed off social media and the news over the period of the Games but I was aware of what is happening in Afghanistan. It’s sad to see it’s fallen back into Taliban hands,” he said.
“Was it all for nothing? I don’t think so. My thoughts go out to the families who paid the ultimate sacrifice for those that have not come back, and they might see it differently.
“But have we protected the UK? Yes. Have we given the Afghans as a nation a better future, better infrastructure? Yes, most definitively. And do I regret what happened to me? No. I loved my job, I loved the army and I loved the Parachute Regiment.
“I was sent to do a job and I loved every moment of it. We can only hope and pray for the people in Afghanistan that something good will come from it.”
Van Gass won golds in the C3 individual pursuit and C1-5 mixed team sprint in the Far East, as well as finishing third in the C1-3 time trial.
He was among a trio of injured British servicemen to secure podium places during the Games, alongside wheelchair rugby gold medallist Stuart Robinson and powerlifting bronze medallist Micky Yule.
Van Gass is proud to be playing his part in inspiring wounded veterans.
“The messages, especially from the wounded community and the veteran community, have been overwhelming,” he said.
“I’m forever grateful for them.
“I’m proud to be part of that community. It’s a very unique community and it’s amazing if we can inspire someone to pick up a sport and to better their life.
“If in any way I’ve had a small part in that, that means a great deal to me.”
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