Published May 28. 2012 4:00AM
Today we again honor the memory of some three-quarters of a million men and women who have died in our nation's service - dating back to the 8,000 killed during the Revolutionary War, adding in the hundreds of thousands lost in the Civil War, the two world wars and now, 4,500 in Iraq and 1,980 in Afghanistan.
The true meaning of Memorial Day - first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868 when flowers decorated the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery - can easily be lost amidst the celebration of summer's start, with its barbecues, beach outings and holiday sales promotions.
Yet this is the America where the young men and women who gave their lives came from, the place they defended. It is free spirited, a place where people work and play hard and, yes, entrepreneurial.
The point, then, is not to forgo all the fun, but rather to take time to pause from it and pay tribute to those who gave the ultimate gift, their lives, to protect this nation and its freedoms.
Most disheartening is that this nation never seems to stop adding to the list of those we honor on Memorial Day. This is a nation weary of war.
After the American Revolution ended in 1783 the United States enjoyed 15 years of peace before it fought in the Franco-American Naval War (1798-1800); the Barbary Wars against Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli (1801-05 and 1815); and then against the British again in the War of 1812 (1812-15).
Leading up to the Civil War, Americans fought and died in the Creek War (1813-14); the War of Texas Independence against Mexico (1814-36) and the Mexican-American War (1846-48).
After the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 still more Americans perished in the Spanish-American War in 1898; World War I from 1917 to 1918; World War II from 1941 to 1945; the Korean War (1950-53); and the Vietnam War (1965-75).
U.S. military personnel also died during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba; the 1983 Grenada intervention; the 1989 invasion of Panama; the Persian Gulf War (1990-91); the Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995-96). Combat operations ceased in Iraq in 2010, nearly eight years after the invasion. The nation's volunteer forces have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001.
"What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world," wrote Confederate General Robert E. Lee in a letter to his wife.
While the nation should never shrink from the duty to confront evil and protect its security, neither should it look too eagerly for opportunities to exert its military might.
How wonderful would it be if for many years the names on the memorials to the war dead were left unchanged and the heroes commemorated on Memorial Day were only of old and not our neighbors?