Americans honor their fallen heroes today, the ninth Memorial Day since former President George W. Bush declared war on radical Islamic terrorists and liberated two nations.
"Personal as well as public acts of remembering are the ideal," said Thomas J. Tradewell, commander in chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Means of paying tribute vary. Pausing for a few moments of personal silence is available to everyone."
Over 5,000 U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in wars to replace tyrants with democracy, making the United States more secure. From Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda planned the murderous assault on America on September 11, 2001. From Iraq, Saddam Hussein aided virtually every terror group seeking to oust moderate Arab regimes.
The nation today will pay tribute those freedom fighters, plus the 405,399 Americans killed in World War II, the 116,516 in World War I, the 58,151 in Vietnam, and the 36,516 in Korea.
There are others to remember, too. As Americans visit veterans cemeteries and war monuments, and mix in cookouts, parades and fireworks, they should also thank the 22,674 who died to create this country during the Revolutionary War.
All told, over 1.3 million Americans have died in wars.
"Attending commemorative ceremonies is the most visible way of demonstrating remembrance," Tradewell said in a "Command Post" in this month’s VFW Magazine devoted to Memorial Day. "Placing flags at grave sites, marching in parades, sponsoring patriotic programs, dedicating memorials and wearing Buddy Poppies are examples."
"Buddy Poppies" distributions are inspired by the World War II poem "In Flanders Fields," and are produced by disabled and needy veterans,
U.S. Presidents often trek across the Potomac River on Memorial Day to commune with fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery, specifically the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for a wreath-laying.
In 1982, a new President, Ronald Reagan, said at Arlington:
"I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. Yet, we must try to honor them—not for their sakes alone, but for our own.
"As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. And let us also pledge to do our utmost to carry out what must have been their wish: that no other generation of young men will every have to share their experiences and repeat their sacrifice."
On Memorial Day, 2004, after the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush appeared at Arlington for a Memorial Day commemoration.
"Through our history, America has gone to war reluctantly, because we have known the costs of war," Bush said. "And the war on terror we’re fighting today has brought great costs of its own. Since the hour this nation was attacked, we have seen the character of the men and women who wear our country’s uniform. In places like Kabul and Kandahar, in Mosul and Baghdad, we have seen their decency and their brave spirit. Because of their fierce courage, America is safer, two terror regimes are gone forever, and more than 50 million souls now live in freedom. Those who have fought these battles and served this cause can be proud of all they have achieved."
President Obama is not scheduled to visit Arlington today. He opted for a weekend vacation in his home town of Chicago. He will speak at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.
Why does our nation honor war dead on one day?
"Far too often, the nation as a whole takes for granted the freedoms all American enjoy," said the VFW’s Tradewell. "Those freedoms were paid for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That’s why they are all collectively remembered on one special day."
The American Legion, the country’s largest veterans group, is today kicking off a news series, "American Heroes," on the Military Channel. One-minute vignettes will tell the stories of eight men and three women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the men is Pvt. 1st. Class Nick Madaras.
"Before he was killed by a roadside bomb, Nick Madaras handed out hundreds of soccer balls to kids in Iraq," says the vignette. "Now the ‘Kick for Nick’ program gives thousands of soccer balls to kids in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Abraham Lincoln delivered this nation’s most famous tribute to the fallen in his much-celebrated Gettysburg Address.
He urged Americans that, "from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
After the Civil War, communities in the North started honoring fallen heroes. The practice spread and by 1982 folks began calling the celebration "Memorial Day," though Congress did not officially brand it until 1967.
Around that time, Washington began designating holidays on a Monday to extend the weekend. Thus Memorial Day since 1971 always has fallen on the last Monday in May, even though veterans groups want it returned to a specific date, May 30.
Today, there is a feeling among some war vets that Amerca’s popular culture no longer appreciates what Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion."
"Regrettably, Memorial Day has become lost in America," retired Gen. Carl Mundy, a former Marine commandant, told HUMAN EVENTS. "Most believe it to be the opening day of summer, barbecue kick-off season, or just another three-day weekend to get to the beach. Few pause to think—if they know at all—that it is a day set aside to remember and pay honor not to veterans or to those serving today. Rather, it is a day in commemoration of the just over 1.3 million men and women who, in the wars fought by our nation over its history, have given their lives in defense of us, or that others in many distant nations of the world can be free.
"English poet Laurence Binyon best put the meaning of the day into words when he wrote in remembrance of his own countrymen: ‘They shall grow not old, as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember then.’"