Memorial Day weekend is a pleasant moment in American life. We get three days off, summer is staring us in the face, families congregate around barbecue grills.
But in military cemeteries around the United States and other countries rest the men and women who made our three-day weekend possible.
We should pause to think about the desperate hand-to-hand combat on Peliliu, and the soldiers who died during the Tet Offensive. We should consider the soldiers who scaled vertical cliffs into German machine gun nests on Normandy and braved the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, and the pilots who bombed Tokyo, Iraq and Afghanistan, and how sailors fought in horrifying naval clashes in the South Pacific. Major battles, minor clashes, police actions, incursions, invasions, or skirmishes are all descriptions of the same outcome: sacrifice.
Consider the sacrifice that not only the soldiers, sailors and airmen made, but also take time to think of the pain of the loss millions of families suffered when their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and any other relation you can name did not come home alive.
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Consider, too, the dreadful disabilities that our servicemen and women have suffered. Millions survived, but had their bodies and spirits broken by conflict. Veterans Administration hospitals remain filled with disabled and ailing men and women who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. They deserve the very best treatment our citizens can provide. Continuing revelations that these veterans did not get the best care possible is a stain on our nation.
Walk through Arlington Cemetery or the Punch Bowl in Hawaii or the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, or any national resting place where our country's honored dead lay, and you will see the white headstones in columns.
They are not just pieces of marble with names and ranks. They are the places where real people are interred. They are 18-year-old kids from small towns in California who were wide receivers on the football team, husbands from Ohio who doted on their 3-year-old babies and mothers from Wisconsin who decided to enlist after Osama bin Laden flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Raise a toast to them, and try to honor your debt to their memory. If you have loved ones who gave the ultimate gift to the United States, know that our gratitude is indescribable. Be a good citizen, inform yourself, vote, work hard and remember that you are here because they are not.