Let’s remember all of them

Who remembers the young man — just a boy, really — who was cut to pieces by German machine gun fire on June 6, 1944, his lifeless body falling to the sand of Omaha Beach? His comrades in arms, those still left among us, remember. They recall his name, his hometown, the trouble he got into during basic training, even what he’d hoped to do after the war.

One of the old veterans, asked about the war, turns away for a moment, to gather his composure. His first thought on hearing the question was about his fallen friend.

Some family members have been told about him, though some cannot make his first name come to mind no matter how hard they try. They know only that they were told a great-uncle perished in “the war,” and perhaps that his medals are in an old chest in someone’s attic. Perhaps they have asked about the faded picture of a young man in uniform, still displayed proudly on a hallway wall.

Do we, for whom they laid down their lives, remember? Have the fallen, collectively as well as individually, passed from our minds as quickly as the history book dates and places we read, then forgot? Or the news reports of those killed by improvised explosive devices or in training exercises?

We cannot permit ourselves to forget.

In the wake of the Civil War, which continues to haunt our nation, our ancestors vowed never to forget. They set aside one day each year to place flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers, in a gesture that has become Memorial Day.

On this Memorial Day 2019, hundreds of thousands of graves have been added as the final resting places of those who served our nation — us — in uniform.

They fell in the miserable jungles of Pacific islands, the bitter cold of the Ardennes Forest, in the air over Ploesti and in the merciless North Atlantic. They died trying to beat back human wave assaults at the Chosin Reservoir and, fighting beside our French allies, in taking Heartbreak Ridge. They laid down their lives in the tall grass of the Ia Drang Valley and in the building-by-building struggle to take back Hue.

They perished flushing fanatic terrorists out of Tora Bora and in defense of Bagram Airbase. They were killed in taking Baghdad and in battles in and in the sand around Fallujah.

And they gave their lives in hundreds of other places, many not significant enough to merit places in the history books — but whose names remain seared into the memories of those who were informed loved ones would not be coming home alive.

1,354,664. That is the number, as well as the government can calculate, of men and women who have been killed during our nation’s more than two-century history, while serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. More than 40,000 remain listed as missing in action.

We pause today to honor them — and to express our profound sympathy to the families of the fallen. We need not know the details of when and where they fell. It is enough for us to reflect that they made the ultimate sacrifice not for some vague notion of liberty or freedom, but so that we, their fellow Americans, could continue to enjoy the kind of life they left behind.

We owe everything to them.

Today, then, we hope you enjoy a pleasant, thoughtful Memorial Day. Let us as a nation salute our honored dead and pray that God keeps them in His care.

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