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Our Views: A grateful nation must never forget

Amid the launch of summer fun, remember why we celebrate holiday

POSTED: May 26, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Memorial Day to most Americans has two sides. One is the holiday’s original intent: An occasion to honor our nation’s service members who fell in battle, celebrate their memories and cherish the freedoms they sacrificed to preserve.

The other side, and one many others put front and center, includes the usual festivities marking the unofficial start of summer: Cookouts, parades, festivals and a day of swimming or boating on the lake.

It’s fine to spend our Monday away from work pursuing fun and leisure; after all, our quality of life is what our nation’s warriors fought so hard and so well to maintain. But let’s not let the first part of the holiday, the one that really counts, get covered up by the barbecue sauce and sunscreen, and become forgotten.

Many veterans who lived to see their comrades in arms lost in battle would like the holiday centered more on its original meaning. They join us at the parades and concerts to mark the occasion, but they also chafe at the commercial and political trappings that often attach themselves to such events and distract from the true intent of the day.

They remember the faces of their fellow soldiers, marines and sailors, frozen in youth for all time, never to age gracefully and share tales of the battle at reunions. Instead, only their names remain to be shared at such events, and only by those closest to them: Family, friends and colleagues in combat. It’s too easy for the rest of us to forget them if we allow ourselves to do so.

However, they deserve to be remembered by all of us. Their lives were cut short in wars fought from our own backyards to the other side of the world, by bayonets, musket balls and roadside bombs, on islands and mountaintops, deserts and jungles, against Nazis and Taliban, but all had one thing in common: They wore the uniform and fought under the flag of the United States. They were and are our countrymen and countrywomen, and we could not live the way we do without them.

There are many solemn remembrances on this day that pay tribute to them. Scouts leave flags in cemeteries. Patriotic concerts pay respects in song. The parades held in their honor.

But is it enough? And do we make enough effort to remember them, not just on the last Monday in May but the rest of the year as well?

It’s easy to forget. As we go on with our daily lives and head back to work on Tuesday, the toil of those who have worn, and still wear, the battle armor can fade quickly from our memories.

That’s especially the case when we have campaigns that wage on for years — now more than a decade in Afghanistan after eight years in Iraq. U.S. troops still serve every day in harm’s way in the Middle East, trying to root out the jihadists and restore some sense of stability in war-torn nations.

Our troops still are fighting and dying, not in the numbers seen previously but any American casualty is notable. And with the exit of U.S. troops set for the end of the year, as that war winds down, the danger may increase.

And when they come home, the nation faces another challenge: Providing health and other crucial benefits for the thousands who need them. The Veterans Administration already is overwhelmed with such needs, but it should remain a top priority. Those who serve so nobly and give so much deserve that from us.

It’s all part of why our current veterans and those taken from us in recent wars deserve our ongoing respect and tributes, just as we still honor those lost in the Revolutionary and Civil wars, World Wars I and II, Vietnam and Korea.

They all count the same because they all fought for the same goal: Make the world safer for America and our allies.

For their sake, all of them, let’s make sure we continue to keep the “memorial” in Memorial Day. Enjoy the parades and lake, munch on watermelon and hot dogs, and take in the Sousa tunes with relish. Let’s just not let the fun and frivolity cloud the true meaning of this day and the courageous American heroes who made it possible.


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