MANHATTAN — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran marked a somber anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Tuesday by pleading for national cohesion so easily frayed by partisan rivalry over the years and urging Americans to commit themselves to answering the country's most divisive challenges.

His speech at Kansas State University chronicled how the assault by Al Qaeda, which used four passenger airliners as spears to kill nearly 3,000, crystallized in his mind the imperative to set aside personal ambitions of running for Kansas governor and invest himself deeply in the federal response to the most deadly attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor.

"On that day, and in the months that followed, Americans bound together, lifted each other up, prayed for healing and recovery and resolved to find a way through the darkness," Moran said.

That Tuesday in 2001 in Washington, D.C., began like many others for Moran, a Republican serving at that in the U.S. House. He was wrapping up a morning workout with then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. He stood side-by-side with Schumer in front of a television to witness the second jet slam into the World Trade Center.

Seventeen years later, both senators — typically rivals on public policy — still remember the moment in which they were neither Republican nor Democrat, but just two fathers worried about welfare of their family and future of the nation.

"Party lines and political posturing ceased," said Moran, who became emotional several times during the introspective Landon Lecture. "Our world had changed. This day 17 years ago changed me — the way I viewed public service."

His larger, more complicated incarnation of elective office, he said, was driven by a letter written by a child. A few days after the nation was shaken on Sept. 11, Moran was part of the first congressional delegation to visit ground zero in New York City. Intimate memorials were amid dust and rubble. He passed photos of the fallen, stuffed animals, bundles of flowers. His eye was drawn to a note from Amanda, age 12.

"Dear Daddy, how much I miss you," the girl's letter said. "How I hope heaven is a wonderful place. I hope I live a life good enough to join you there someday. Love, Amanda."

Moran said the nation adopted a sense of common purpose to cast off the effort by terrorists to paralyze the country. Personally, the senator said, the quest was to make the world a place where American children didn't write memorial letters to a parent following another round of terrorist attacks.

It also launched the United States into a military fight that carried from Afghanistan to Iraq and many other conflict zones. Aircraft that struck the Trade Center, Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania triggered expansion of powers by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to protect U.S. territory. The Patriot Act gave new meaning to homeland security and brought the idea of warrantless surveillance into the lexicon.

So many years later, Moran said, political clarity that guided the national interest in 2001 has fractured. The senator said the evidence was compelling. Look no further than behavior of candidates during elections, President Donald Trump's mishandling of trade agreements and tariffs, Washington debates on health care and taxes, or the eagerness of people to tear others down via social media. The list of unbridled conflicts range from immigration to poverty, defense to health care, education to environment and war to peace.

Moran said farmers and ranchers of Kansas had at their fingertips the ingredients of a more peaceful world — food. Farmers grow wheat, sorghum, corn and other crops in demand by a hungry world. He said beef, pork and chicken raised in the state and exported to other countries should also be viewed as a tool of national security, given an estimated 800 million people go to bed each night chronically hungry.

"Food shortages act as a catalyst for upheaval and conflict," he said. "We have witnessed regions of the world descend into chaos due to a lack of access to food. In assisting those who need it, we reduce the likelihood of another terrorist attack on our nation."

Moran said one of his guiding principles in politics was to do right instead of what came easy. He said he demonstrated that notion in 1999 as a U.S. House member during the impeachment proceedings for President Bill Clinton. During a speech on the House floor, Moran said he wanted his children to know he stood for high ethical standards, truth, the rule of law and not for party politics or passions of the moment.

"In 2018, we find ourselves in another challenging and uncertain time, where Americans are
divided and once again a president is under investigation," he said. "As I stand on this stage today, I want my daughters to know that their dad will adhere to these same principles."

He said every generation was compelled to ask the same big question: Can the nation endure such calamity?

"Today, many are asking, 'Will our country survive?' The answer is: Yes, the country will be fine," Moran said. "The country will be fine if we stop asking, ‘Who can I fight?’ and instead, ‘How can I help?’ This goes for all of us. Not just politicians and elected officials."