Since the War of Independence started in 1776 over 650,000 men and women have lost their lives in battle to secure our independence, protect our country, preserve our union and protect the freedoms of countries throughout the world. More than half a million additional soldiers have died in service outside the theater of war. They died servicing us! Among those honored, today we remember.
American Revolution battle deaths.4,435War of 1812. 2,260
World War I.53,402
World War II.291,557
Global War on Terror.4,278 as of April 23, 2009.
As a free country, we will and should continue to argue over when and where the choice to go to war is worth that cost. But today we honor those who have died to preserve our freedom to disagree!
But listing numbers of the dead is somehow inadequate. It wasn't until we saw the pictures and read the letters that adorned the black iron fence in front of St. Paul's Chapel across from the Twin Towers, that the impact of the 9/11 terrorist attack hit us full force. We saw the hundreds of faces and read the messages from loved ones reaching out to those who were no longer with us.
In World War II, over 400,000 American soldiers were lost in and out of the theater of war. Seeing the rows and rows of grave stones in Normandy, in Arlington Cemetery or in the Los Angeles National Cemetery can begin to demonstrate the enormity of that loss. But it has been the books and movies about the "greatest generation" and our most costly war that has brought our tears to the surface.
Whether it was the dramatic and fictional "Saving Private Ryan" or the true story of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division chronicled in the acclaimed HBO mini-series, "Band of Brothers," the realistic portrayal of what it took to preserve freedom touches us still.
As our Global War on Terror continues and promises to intensify as we shift our focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, let us continue to remember and honor those who have given and will give their lives in serve.
Unfortunately, far too many of our movies today, portray our soldiers negatively. Attacking our own seems to be one of the only politically correct targets Hollywood gives themselves permission to use. Until that changes, take time to "Saving Private Ryan" every Memorial Day.
Take time to dwell on the final battle scene. Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), whose men were charged to find and safely bring back Private Ryan, is mortally wounded. As Private Ryan (Matt Damon) kneels by his side, the captain says in his last breath, "Earn this." In the closing scene as Ryan's family walks the Normandy Cemetery, an aged Ryan implores his wife to reassure him that he has indeed "earned" what Miller and others did for him.
For each generation, on Memorial Day and every day, may all Americans once again take to heart Miller's charge to Ryan-"Earn this!"
How do we do that? In response to a column in 2005, a local master sergeant sent me the following message: "I have served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq so I suppose you could say I have seen first hand the cost of freedom. Since I returned from Iraq, I sometimes sit and wonder if people back here really understand or appreciate the depth of the sacrifices that have been made and are being made every day in order to protect our way of life and bring freedom to the Iraqi people. Every now and then I will talk to someone or read something that puts my mind at ease and reassures me that our soldiers haven't died in vain."
So please attend a Memorial Day service in your community, take time to say thank you today to any veteran or soldier who has served, for many of them have seen first hand the cost of freedom. As you walk a local cemetery, stop to say a prayer and lay a flower on the grave of one who gave his all. Extend comfort to any family member or friend whose loved ones paid the ultimate price. Remember, for those who have lost a parent, spouse, sibling, child or close friend to war, every day is Memorial Day.
So, as we gather today to remember, may we cherish the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address: "We can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."