Commentary: After assault by inaugural protesters, a call to redefine nation's character

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Brendan Looney (left) and Travis Manion, roommates at the U.S. Naval Academy who are now buried side by side at Arlington National Cemetery. Manion was killed in action in 2007, while Looney died in 2010. The author is the sister of Travis Manion.

America, we must do better.

I have a deep love for my country. I also have a profound respect for our civic duties, including public service, voting, and peaceful demonstration. I appreciate all of those who left their warm houses this weekend to voice their opinion either celebrating our new president or peacefully voicing their dissent.

But what happened to me and one of my best friends and co-worker, Amy Looney, under the false notion of "protesting" showed an ugly side of America that needs to be known.

On Friday, Amy and I were assaulted by angry "protesters" outside the Renaissance Washington DC Hotel, where the American Legion hosted a tribute to Medal of Honor recipients at their Veterans Inaugural Ball. We were pushed by a man in a mask hiding his face. Our clothes were drawn on with permanent marker by other "protesters." And we were called the most vile names I have ever heard as we entered and exited the venue.

What the individuals who assaulted us did not know is that I am the sister of Marine First Lt. Travis Manion, and Amy is the wife of Navy SEAL Lt. Brendan Looney, who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Travis was killed in 2007, and Brendan in 2010.

We understand more than most how fortunate we are to live in a country where we can demonstrate and share our different beliefs. But my question for those who chose to take this route Friday is this: Are you truly accomplishing anything by inciting hate?

After my brother Travis was killed, my mom started the Travis Manion Foundation, which empowers veterans and families of the fallen. As leaders of this organization, Amy and I work with our country's leaders to ensure these families are properly cared for and veterans are given every opportunity to continue to serve this great country.

Amy and I did not attend the Inaugural Ball as a political statement. We support the current administration exactly like we supported the previous administration and just like we will support every future administration that the American people elect. Amy and I keep our personal politics private; our duty is to the legacy of Travis and Brendan and all those that have served and sacrificed.

Listen, I get it. We are at a critical time in our nation's history. The division we see is real and it's an emotional time for all. But how can we channel our collective differences to make a positive impact?

At Travis Manion Foundation, our idea is simple but ambitious. We want to redefine America's national character. I was recently asked, "What's wrong with our national character?" The response I gave was this:

I envision an America that values character above all else. Where integrity is more important than celebrity. Where acts of service and kindness permeate the nightly news. Where communities unite together to raise each other up.

And we at the foundation are already making this happen. One kid, one person, one community at a time.

I believe this ugly incident involving Amy and me is one of those teachable moments that our entire country can learn from. The character of this country is, at the end of the day, defined by our differences. I have friends who I love dearly on both sides of the political aisle. Let's celebrate the differences that not only define us, but define what makes the United States of America the greatest country in the world.

Join our movement - united, with respect for all, let's redefine America's national character.

Ryan Manion is president of the Travis Manion Foundation. ryan@travismanion.com