Honoring the Dead

By Detroit Free Press, Detroit Free Press - May 25, 2009

May 25, 2009

"The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ..."

President Abraham Lincoln spoke these words on Nov. 19, 1863, at the dedication of a cemetery for the soldiers who died in the epic Battle of Gettysburg, which turned the tide of the American Civil War in favor of those fighting to preserve the United States of America.

The words still ring true on this Memorial Day, 146 years later. Yes, this is a day we are asked to pause and remember those who have died in service of our country. But on this and any day, it is important to also remember what all these deaths have kept alive -- the idea of this democracy and the principles for which it stands.

True, we have not as a nation always measured up to our expressed ideals. But that is not the fault of the men and women who have gone into battle to defend them and gave their lives in the name of freedom for others -- including the generations who came after them.

How do we best honor them? By standing up whenever and however we can for those ideals; by exercising and defending in our own way the freedoms we too often take for granted; by calling out injustice wherever it occurs, in this country or abroad; and by never forgetting the truth upon which America declared itself a free nation, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Strong words. Worth defending.

Today, we pause to remember those who died doing so. We honor them every day by living up to the cause for which they sacrificed.

U.S. military combatdeaths in major wars War Years Casualties Revolutionary War 1775-83 4,435 War of 1812 1812-15 2,260 Mexican War 1846-48 1,733 Civil War 1861-65 212,938 Spanish-American War 1898 385 World War I 1917-18 53,402 World War II 1941-46 291,557 Korean War 1950-53 33,741 Vietnam War 1964-73 47,424 Desert Storm 1990-91 147 Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) 2001-present (as of May 16) 686 Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003-present 3,442 Sources: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, Oxford Companion to American Military History

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