EDITORIAL: Remember those who protect our freedoms

Before you light the barbecue, watch a ballgame or head to the mall today, take a moment or two to reflect on those men and women -- many of them young -- who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom, opportunity and prosperity that the United States provides.

We look forward to a Memorial Day when U.S. troops aren't engaged on battlefields. But our armed forces remain involved in two wars triggered by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our country: the War on Terror and the War in Afghanistan.

According to icasualties.org, 2,133 Americans have lost their lives from fighting in and around Afghanistan. The number of wounded is more than 18,000. And there will be more dead and wounded before combat missions end there, according to President Obama's exit plan, by the end of next year.

Our San Joaquin Valley is distinguished by its patriotism and interest in American history.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Mountain View Cemetery in Fresno will host a unique event today beginning at 2 p.m. Civil War veterans will be honored with a double-sided memorial featuring both Union and Confederate stones.

This is but one of many local Memorial Day observances. The ceremony at Washington Colony Cemetery, 7318 S. Elm Ave in Fresno, begins at 9 a.m. Buried there are two recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Pfc. Jack William Kelso of the U.S. Marines was returned to the cemetery after dying in the Korean War. Born in Madera, the 18-year-old Kelso grabbed a grenade when he was under fire along with four other Marines in a bunker, according to his medal citation. He rushed out of the bunker to throw the grenade at the enemy, and was wounded when it exploded near his hand.

He refused to stay in the bunker, and fired a rifle at opposing forces, trying to protect his fellow soldiers in the bunker, the citation reads. He was killed by enemy fire in October 1952.

Army Pfc. Joe M. Nishimoto of Caruthers displayed "extraordinary heroism" during World War II in 1944 near La Houssiere, France, according to his medal citation. Nishimoto later died in France. Here is the summary of his actions posted on the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website:

"Boldly crawled forward through a heavily mined and booby-trapped area. Spotting a machine gun nest, he hurled a grenade and destroyed the emplacement. Then, circling to the rear of another machine gun position, he fired his submachine gun at point-blank range, killing one gunner and wounding another.

"Pursuing two enemy riflemen, Private First Class Nishimoto killed one, while the other hastily retreated. Continuing his determined assault, he drove another machine gun crew from its position. The enemy, with their key strong points taken, were forced to withdraw from this sector."

These are but two examples of the bravery and sacrifice that allow us to enjoy this holiday.