Memorial Day pays tribute to our nation’s war dead. It demands that we, the living, recall the ultimate sacrifice those brave men and women of the U.S. military made for our country.
But Memorial Day also gives most of us a three-day holiday weekend.
So predictably enough, the solemn theme — and essential responsibility — of this occasion often gets lost amid the festive joys of beach outings, cookouts and ballgames.
Lest you forget the special meaning of this special day, though, ponder this all-too-real number: 1.3 million. That, according to conservative estimates, is how many Americans have died in our nation’s wars.
The carnage started with the roughly 25,000 patriots killed in the Revolutionary War that made our grand experiment in self-government possible.
The Civil War that preserved the Union — and ended slavery — claimed the lives of more than 360,000 Northern and more than 260,000 Southern troops.
America’s death toll in World War II, as our “Greatest Generation” played crucial roles in vanquishing both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, topped 400,000.
Our struggles against communism in Korea and Vietnam cost, combined, more than 90,000 American lives.
And since our war on terror began after 9/11, more than 6,500 U.S. military personnel have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At some point, such chilling statistics can induce a numbing effect — in the abstract.
However, there’s nothing abstract about losing a son, daughter, husband, wife, brother, sister, father, mother or friend in war.
When an American soldier, sailor or airman (or woman) is killed in the line of duty, the single loss of life frequently has devastating ripple effects that linger for decades.
And when Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. addressed a Memorial Day gathering of his fellow ex-Union soldiers on May 30, 1884 in Keene, N.H., his stirring message wasn’t confined to those former comrades in arms.
Mr. Holmes, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1902-32, rightly told his audience that while saluting those who fell on the battlegrounds of the past is our duty, so is moving forward through the present and into the future:
“I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”
So join in on “the great chorus of life” on this 2013 Memorial Day.
Yet also remember — and honor — those who paid the highest price for our precious American freedoms.