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Remembering Memorial Day

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- American writer, Joseph Campbell, may have said it best, "A true hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself." Memorial Day is a time to remember our fallen heroes. They gave their lives for our country. In a world where the term "hero" is loosely used to describe athletes, celebrities and many other unfitting persons, those that passed in the defense of our great nation, truly epitomize the definition of a hero.

The freedom and opportunities we have as Americans, we owe to these fallen warriors. On this day, for more than 140 years, we recognize them. Yet each Memorial Day, many of us find ourselves engaged in the unenviable task of reminding fellow Americans why, in fact, we observe this day. We don't gather to celebrate the opening of public swimming pools for the summer or to welcome the latest community attraction. Nor is it the time offer thanks to my fellow men and women currently serving in the armed forces; though a show of gratitude for them on this day is certainly well intended. Rather, today is the one day of the year we officially pay tribute to every single American service member who died in defense of this great country.

While many communities lay claim to the birth of Memorial Day, it was a veteran's organization that organized and sought acceptance for the first Decoration Day on May 5, 1868. It was celebrated with great fanfare during a large observance held at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from our nation's Capitol, where they placed flowers on the graves of the Civil War dead. Over the years, but not until after World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars. Then, in 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.

Memorial Day is a sacred time to honor those whose sacrifices made possible every freedom and, indeed, every breath we enjoy. President Ronald Reagan once said, "Most of those who died in defense of our country were boys when they died, and they gave up two lives - the one they were living, and the one they would have lived. They gave up their chance to be husbands and fathers and grandfathers...They gave up everything for their country, for us. All we can do is remember."

In reflecting on those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, every life lost is a tragedy. It is a loss to our military, to our nation and to the families who grieve. Every Memorial Day, we struggle to understand the meaning of such sacrifice and loss. And it always seems so much more painful than words alone can convey. All we can do is remember the sacrifices made for us and for our freedom. Whether or not we lost a family member or friend to the horrors of war, we as Americans all share in one another's loss. We also share in the blessings of a free nation, bestowed by the fallen as a gift ever new to our children, their children and their children's children. For that, on this Memorial Day, we thank every American who passed from battle into the light. Through their successors, may God continue to watch over and protect America.