ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, Va. -- This is the place that receives the most attention on Memorial Day, though it is but one of 141 national cemeteries in the United States and 24 others located on foreign soil. Many of our countrymen will observe this "last Monday in May" holiday with travel, shopping and picnics. But those who take the time to visit one of these hallowed grounds will have an unforgettable experience.
These are the final resting places for more than 3 million Americans who served in our armed forces -- as soldiers, sailors, airmen, Guardsmen and Marines -- including the nearly 5,500 who have perished in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A visit to one of these quiet memorials is a tribute to those who made history by wearing our nation's uniform and taking up arms to preserve our liberty and free tens of millions of others from tyranny. In words written on stone markers, these places tell the story of who we are as a people.
Regardless of when they served, all interred in these cemeteries sacrificed the comforts of home and absented themselves from the warmth and affection of loved ones. Since 1776, more than 1.5 million Americans have lost their lives while in uniform.
At countless funerals and memorial services for those who lost their lives in the service of our country, I hear the question, "Why is such a good young person taken from us in the prime of life?" Plato, the Greek philosopher, apparently sought to resolve the issue by observing, "Only the dead have seen the end of war." I prefer to take my solace in the words of Jesus to the Apostle John: "Father, I will that those you have given me, be with me where I am."
My sojourns to this "Sacred Ground," as Tom Ruck calls our national cemeteries in the title of his magnificent book, remind me that among those here are veterans who served with my father and all of my uncles in the conflagration of World War II. Only a handful of those 16.5 million from that "greatest generation" remain. Others resting in these consecrated places were tested just five years later in our first fight against despotic communism -- on the Korean Peninsula. They braved stifling heat, mind-numbing cold and an enemy that often outnumbered them 10 to one.
Here are headstones of those who served in the decade between Korea and Vietnam. More than 12 millions young Americans donned military uniforms in what was called "the cold war." It was only cold for those who didn't have to fight in it. They served on land, air and sea in lonely outposts, dusty camps, along barbed wire barriers in foreign lands, on guard against those who would have done us harm if they had the chance.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.