For many, Memorial Day is the first chance to jump in a pool, get out on a lake or take the first walk on a beach after a long winter.
And there’s nothing really wrong with any of that. After all, the very men and women Memorial Day is designed to honor would surely be some of the first to say they died so Americans — and plenty of others around the world — can live in freedom to gather as families and friends without fear of oppression or tyranny.
But it’s also fitting to take time, wherever you end up on Memorial Day, to stop and give thanks for the more than a million soldiers and support staff who died to make our way of life possible.
Take a moment to remember those who died giving birth to our nation in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783) — possibly as many as 25,000 with an equal number wounded.
That may not seem like a lot compared to later conflicts, but as a percentage of the population, those losses were the second most costly our nation has ever suffered, right behind the Civil War.
Another 20,000 perished in the War of 1812 (1812-1815).
The Mexican-American War consumed more than 17,000 in the two-year period of 1846-1848.
The total losses from the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), which pitted many families against one another, took the lives of nearly 700,000,— more than both World Wars, combined.
World War I (1917-18) tallied the deaths of 116,500 brave U.S. soldiers with World War II claiming more than 405,000.
The Korean (1950-53) and Vietnam wars (1962-75) claimed 36,516 and 58,209 lives, respectively. Advances in medicine meant more lives could be saved, but it also meant bringing home more memories, with the hidden casualties of mental and emotional anguish.
The first Gulf War (1990-91) claimed the lives of 294 soldiers. A decade later, the Afghanistan War cost 2,229 U.S. lives.
And the Iraq War (2003-11) cost more than double that with 4,488 soldiers lost.
Altogether, with many other conflicts not listed here, more than 1.3 million U.S. soldiers have directly paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.
And we should not forget those who returned from war but became lost in the struggle to re-adjust after the trauma they endured. Currently, as many as 6,570 to 8,000 veterans take their own lives each year; that’s 18-22 veterans lost every day, here at home.
Not a small number of all these soldiers knew, without a doubt, they were heading into conflict from which they would not return. But they went, with photos and letters from loved ones taped inside their helmets, tucked into shirt pockets or tacked up in their cockpits or on their dashboards.
The very least we can do is be willing to take a moment to honor them and say thanks.
Paying tribute on Memorial Day
Wake Forest Memorial Post 8466 will hold a Memorial Day ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. Monday at the Wake Forest Veterans Memorial, 1250 Heritage Club Ave. The ceremony lasts about an hour and features prayer, singing of the National Anthem and several speakers. A special tribute will be made for attending World War II veterans.
For those not near a Memorial Day ceremony, you can observe a moment of silence at 12:01 p.m., the time when Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America will lay a wreath before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
It also is traditional to fly the U.S. flag at half staff from dawn until noon on Memorial Day, raising the flag to full-staff for the rest of the day.