Editor’s note: A version of this editorial originally was published in 2007.
For most of us, Memorial Day is a time to enjoy a three-day weekend, have a backyard barbecue and spend some time at the beach. Those pleasures are fitting for the holiday: They represent the fruits of our freedom, which was secured with the blood of patriots.
Memorial Day was initially established to honor the Union dead of the Civil War (the former Confederate states set aside a separate day in remembrance of their fallen soldiers). After World War I, it was expanded to include all of America’s war dead.
The grim toll: In the Revolutionary War, 4,435 Americans died in battle; in the War of 1812, 2,260; in the Mexican War, 1,733; in the Civil War, 214,938; in the Spanish-American War, 385; in World War I, 53,402; in World War II, 291,557; in the Korean War, 33,741; in the Vietnam War, 47,424; and in the Persian Gulf War, 147.
Since 9/11, more than 2,225 American service men and women have been killed in Afghanistan and more than 4,485 have perished in Iraq. It’s sobering that we have to update these figures every year.
All told, more than 650,000 Americans have given their lives for their country. No matter one’s political opinion of specific wars or their philosophy toward war in general, these individuals should be remembered for their sacrifice.
Most were regular guys who gave up the safety of home for the danger of combat in a foreign land. Many served out of a sense of duty and patriotism. To learn more about them — to see them as individuals, not just statistics — spend a few minutes at Faces of the Fallen clicking on random thumbnails.
Look at their faces, so many of them agonizingly young. Read the stories about their backgrounds, their personalities, their hopes and dreams, the impacts they had on other lives. Grieve for them and their families, but also respect their choice to serve their country.
That’s not meant to put a downer on the holiday. There’s plenty of time for fun and relaxation. Indeed, we like to believe that’s how the fallen would want it. They sacrificed for our freedom to be frivolous (among other sacred liberties).
The nation should be eternally grateful to those who gave their lives, not just today, but every day. Mourn their passing, but take pride in knowing we have people like them defending our freedoms and representing our ideals.
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