Never forget what today memorializes

Published May 28, 2007

Of all commemorations honoring sacrifices made for our country, none are more solemn than Memorial Day, which we observe today. The holiday began as a spontaneous act when townspeople in the 1860s decorated the graves of Union and Confederate dead. Originally called Decoration Day, it marked a step toward reconciliation by acknowledging the nation's loss from war, a remembrance that grew to include those killed in other wars, which for our young nation totals more than 1.2-million servicemen and women since the American Revolution.

To put that staggering sum in perspective, some countries with smaller populations than our war dead have seats at the United Nations. That says a lot about the price our nation has paid to defend democracy at home and across the globe for going on three centuries. There is something enduring in the American spirit that motivates so many men and women to sacrifice themselves for our way of life. It is a motivation that transcends the popularity of a conflict because its roots reflect the best in the human character: devotion, selflessness and responsibility. These are ideals Memorial Day honors as living legacies. The flags at the grave sites, the poppies and parades are gestures that show our appreciation and common cause with the loved ones left behind.

So take a moment today at the beach or the neighbor's barbecue to remember our fellow Americans who died fulfilling their sense of duty, a dedication that is alive this very day in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. We must never forget or diminish their sacrifice, and honoring it will help keep our society from minimizing the horror of war for those sent to confront the danger firsthand.