Americans mark a solemn occasion

We must not forget others’ ultimate sacrifices

By The Mercury

America has no shortage of patriotic days. Among those that don’t get much attention are Flag Day, Constitution Day and Presidents Day. Better known are Veterans Day, on which we honor the service of military veterans; and Independence Day — the Fourth of July — on which we celebrate the day that courageous and visionary men stopped being British colonists and became Americans.

Today on Memorial Day, rather than celebrate, we commemorate the sacrifices of men and women who over the decades and in countless places fought and died to preserve the country established on Independence Day.

It is our most solemn national holiday, and rightly so.

The number of men and women who died defending this country is well in excess of 1 million. They include the roughly 25,000 who died during the Revolution as well as more than 600,000 who died on both sides during the Civil War, the more than 400,000 who died in World War II, the 116,000 killed during World War I, the more than 35,000 who died in Korea, the more than 58,000 who died in Vietnam as well as the more than 6,600 who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Americans have been killed in 22 wars or smaller conflicts just since the 20th century began, from the Boxer Rebellion and Philippine-American War to U.S interventions in Central America, the Balkans and elsewhere.

The immediate purposes for which military personnel went into combat may have differed, as did the degree of support at home. But the larger purpose was to defend America’s national interests and the freedoms we civilians enjoy to the point that we often take them for granted.

It is unfortunate that Memorial Day has become something other than a day to remember and honor our war dead. It’s become part of a major holiday weekend, an occasion for sales of all kinds of merchandise and the unofficial beginning of summer. Barbecues are fired up, lake outings resume and swimming pools are again noisy places. Those activities are nothing more or less than Americans enjoying their free time, often oblivious to the sacrifices required to keep our free time truly free.

We’re allowed to enjoy ourselves, but we would be remiss — inconsiderate — not to pause in honor and gratitude for the men and women who gave up their free time forever on distant beaches, mountain valleys and anonymous villages protecting our nation, its values and us.

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