It was a much more somber Memorial Day celebration than we are accustomed. The normal fare of picnics, parades and patriotic concerts would have been preferrable. But today American soldiers are in combat and some have lost their lives in a war that has many skeptics and critics. Itâ€™s especially worrisome that we have our own National Guard unit engaged in that conflict.
President Bush declared Monday that America is safer because of its fighting forces and the damages inflicted on terrorists. That may be true, but the nation has paid a price. A year ago at this time, approximately 160 American soldiers had been killed in Iraq. The total since has risen to more than 800, and last week the Pentagon reported that the number wounded in action is approaching 4,700. We hope and pray that the new transitions now under way in Iraq will pave the way toward a resolution of this conflict and that our troops will return safely.
There was a bright note in this yearâ€™s celebration in the formal dedication Saturday of a new bronze and granite memorial to the ranks of World War II veterans. The seven-acre memorial comes as many of the veterans of that war are into their 70s or older. Of the 16 million who served, only about 4 million are still alive and veterans from that war are dying at a rate of 1,056 a day. The memorial is worth seeing with its 56 granite pillars, each 17 feet high and representing the states, territories of that time and the District of Columbia. Two huge arches representing the Atlantic and Pacific, symbolizing the two theaters of the war. A wall with 4,000 sculpted gold stars commemorates the more than 400,000 Americans killed.
And they are not the only veterans we should honor at Memorial Day. Our generation saw more losses in the Korean War and the War in Vietnam. Many of those veterans are still among us and help us celebrate these patriotic observances.
Arguments can be made about the justification of some of these conflicts, but you will find no critics of the soldiers who have engaged in combat for the protection of their nation. We would not be the â€œland of the freeâ€ without them.