Men and Women of Action

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On Memorial Day, I think of the war dead. Memorial Day arises out of the ancient custom of decorating soldiers’ graves with flowers. A variety of celebrations emerged in the United States, after the American Civil War, to decorate soldiers’ graves and honor the war dead. The details and dates varied, but each of these celebrations centered around remembering those who gave their lives in service to America. These myriad celebrations coalesced in the 20th century into the tradition we know as Memorial Day.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates our total war dead, from 1775 to the present, at just about 1.19 million. 651,000 of these deaths occurred in battle. Another 309,000 were killed in war theaters by other causes. About 230,000 other deaths occurred during our wars outside of the battle theater. No matter how these men and women died, each answered the call. Some deaths helped establish the very idea of America. Others preserved the idea of America in her darkest hours. Each one of these 1.19 million served and defended a place which, though imperfect, flawed, and constantly struggling with itself, was built to offer freedom and liberty like no other place on earth.

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