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Our Views: Never forget them
The brave heroes we honor this holiday have made our lives of freedom possible
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

The bands will play, the veterans will bask in the applause and visitors to Monday's Memorial Day parades in Gainesville and elsewhere will wave their flags with patriotic fervor. A few then may visit loved ones at local cemeteries and pay respects to those who were lost in battle.

And then we'll all go home, fire up the grill, launch the boat and enjoy the rest of our holiday weekend.

But did we ever stop to think how our everyday lives might be different if it weren't for those who have sacrificed their lives on our behalf?

We set aside Memorial Day to remember our fallen war heroes, but their influence is felt every day and in everything we do.

Like it or not, it's hard to avoid the fact that our nation was founded and forged by war. It began in the 18th century as a group of idealistic colonists took up arms to break from the English monarchy. Then they loaded up their muskets a second time a few years later to run the British off for good.

In the mid-19th century, Americans fought a long and bloody war among themselves to unite a fractured union and make it whole, and a new nation emerged from the carnage.

In the 20th century, American soldiers traveled beyond their hemisphere for the first time to fight on behalf of our allies in Europe and Asia. Without that effort, Europe would have been overrun by fascists, and it's likely the Cold War that followed may have led to an atomic confrontation.

Wars in Korea and Vietnam produced only stalemates against the tide of communism, but still showed the world the United States would not abandon its allies when they are threatened.

And wars in the Middle East over the last two decades have silenced or scattered the warlords of terrorism and laid what we hope will be the foundation for a more democratic future for that region.

It's not that Americans love to fight, as some wrongly claim. And we certainly don't relish the thought of dying in battle. It's that we are willing to defend what we hold dear: Liberty, justice and the rights of men and women to determine their own fates.

More than a million brave souls have done just that, on the fields of Massachusetts and Virginia, the beaches of Normandy and the Pacific and the desert sands of Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. The families they left behind know of their sacrifice and celebrate it daily. The rest of us, though, tend to wait for the final Monday in May to start paying attention.

But without that sacrifice, the rest of today would not be possible. What would our lives be like under the thumb of Nazis, Bolsheviks or jihadists? We would not have a nation of free people but of loyal subjects living at the whim of our oppressors. That's the very reason we broke away and founded this nation more than 200 years ago, and we're never going back there again.

Still, our wars often drone on to the point where we forget about our soldiers' daily sacrifice. During World War II, the home front was united as radio and newspaper reports offered daily updates. Such was the case in the 1960s when TV news brought war into our living rooms for the first time during the Vietnam conflict.

Ironically, we now have so many more ways to stay informed on our war efforts, but over time they fade into the background. Turn on a cable TV channel today and you're more likely to see a story about "American Idol," basketball playoffs or the latest Donald Trump invective than what our troops are facing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our attention strays from what is important, often because our soldiers are so successful in their missions that we take them for granted.

And they're still there, by the way. The war in Iraq has largely subsided, but U.S. troops remain to face the remnants of loyalists to Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Nearly 4,500 of them have been lost in the eight-year conflict. Two were killed in an attack last week in a wave of deadly explosions, reminding us that the war is not yet over and not yet won.

Among those lost in Iraq in 2007 was one of our own, Army Pfc. Johnathon Millican of Lula, who was killed by a grenade during an ambush in Karbala.

The shooting in Afghanistan continues as well, the Taliban forces conducting guerrilla warfare in a hundred small towns in that vast, foreboding country. Eight U.S. troops were lost in an attack last week, bringing the total to more than 1,500 since our nation went on the offensive in 2001.

And another one of our own from Lula, Army National Guard Maj. Kevin Jenrette, was lost in a firefight there almost two years ago.

Yet a team Navy SEALs was able to corner and kill Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout several weeks ago, a key milestone in the war on terror.

We hold out hope that when these wars finally end and our soldiers come home, we'll never need to take up arms again. Yet we always find new enemies waiting to threaten us. The "War to End All Wars," as World War I once was known, brought peace for barely two decades, and little of it since.

So we keep our military ready and our resolve strong to make sure the fight for freedom will never be lost.

Even after the wreaths have been laid, parades are done and the charcoal fizzles out, let's remember our fallen heroes and keep their sacrifices in mind today and beyond to make sure their names are never forgotten. That's the least we can do for those to whom we owe so very much.

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