The Best Memorial Day Editorial So Far
JEFF LESTER / News Editor
Monday, May 26, is Memorial Day.
Each of us has a lot to remember.
As of May 16, 4,078 Americans had died while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and at least 30,000 had been wounded. In Operation Enduring Freedom, 497 had died and more than 1,900 had been wounded.
War has been a daily shadow across our lives for nearly seven years.
Some choose not to think about it. Maybe they don’t have a relative or friend who has served. They choose to focus on the high price of gas, or on how to pay the bills, or on getting that new video game, or on who got bumped from American Idol.
It’s been 63 years since the United States has known war as a national sacrifice, with every man, woman and child called upon to do their part.
About 16.1 million of us served in the armed forces during World War II — roughly one in every nine Americans. Nearly 405,400 died, more than 30,000 went missing and nearly 671,000 were wounded.
Those who stayed home raised victory gardens, saved scrap metal, worked in airplane and tank factories, built warships.
But since the end of World War II, our society has given many of us a pass. With no draft, no rationing of consumer goods, no appropriation of civilian industry for military needs, it’s been too easy to shut out the hard reality of war.
Many of us managed to shut it out during the Korean conflict, often called “the forgotten war” — in which 1.6 million Americans served, more than 36,500 died, nearly 8,200 were missing in action and more than 103,000 were wounded.
As the Vietnam conflict ground on and finally lost our support, we tried to ignore the shadow again — even though almost 3 million Americans served, more than 58,200 died, nearly 2,000 went MIA and more than 303,000 were wounded.
And when our Korea and Vietnam veterans came home, we disgraced ourselves with our indifference.
In the years between Vietnam and 2001, 754 Americans died in conflict, from the botched Iran hostage rescue attempt in 1979 to the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the battles of Somalia in 1992-93. As a nation, we barely paused from our daily travails to recognize them.
Today, many of us are weary of war and uncertain of our nation’s justification to fight. Even the direct attack against our nation on 9/11 has faded like a bad dream.
But some of us choose to stare into the shadow.
After all, within it are thousands of our neighbors, known and unknown, working as best they can to protect those of us who are safe and comfortable.
That darkness is where 4,575 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Nearly 32,000 more carry badges of honor etched in scars on bodies and minds.
Some of us cannot look away and take solace in our safety. We owe our attention to the 1.6 million Americans who have served in Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom — roughly one in every 190 of us — and the wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends who have lain awake at night worrying for their safety or mourning their loss. We owe our attention to them and to all those who went before them in conflicts big and small.
If you do nothing else, take a minute or two out of your life on Memorial Day to pay your respects by joining in the National Moment of Remembrance.
At 3 p.m. Monday, put down your work or walk away from your backyard grill. Take just one moment to reflect on the people who — to paraphrase George Orwell — stand ready to do violence on your behalf so that you can sleep peaceably in your beds.
Say a prayer of gratitude on behalf of the millions who have served for you, the thousands who have died and suffered for you, and the millions more who know and love them. They belong to us all.
Let those numbers sink in. I will be setting some flags out Saturday on graves. Visiting the Veterans resting in a couple local commentaries and a few living near by. They gave all for you and me....Honor them.