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Honoring silent sentinels on Memorial Day

The following editorial first appeared on Memorial Day weekend in 2015. Well received by the public based on emails and reader comments, we offer it again in hopes that in some small way it honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation.

They are silent sentinels on this Memorial Day. They remain ever youthful and fit as they smile at us from old photographs. Row after row of gleaming white markers across the green of Arlington and in thousands of small town cemeteries give hushed testimony to their sacrifice.

They are the dead of America’s wars. They are beyond giving testimony about the lessons learned from battle, the horrors and heroism, the barbarism and the love for brothers – and sisters – in arms. Those observations are left to the survivors, who often return from those battlefields with guilt for the odds having turned in their favor. Why did they survive when their comrades did not?

Memorial Day arrives at a time that makes the contrast between the gifts bestowed on the living – freedom, security, opportunity – and the ultimate sacrifice of the dead all the more poignant. Memorial Day for the living is the gift of another summer, of family gatherings and vacations, of ball games and lazy afternoons. Such thoughts sustained many a soldier and sailor, but for thousands the dream of a return to home, and to summers, remained a dream unfulfilled.

It is important that the living remember, that they view Memorial Day as more than just the opportunity for a long weekend, a cookout, a shopping sale. Americans need to remember because those who sacrificed deserve it and because blocking out the reality that the day represents would be a perilous mistake.

From Lexington to Fort Griswold, to Gettysburg to Belleau Wood, from Midway to Normandy, from Khe Sanh to Kuwait to Fallujah, to hundreds of other battlegrounds and contested oceans, American Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen responded to the call and did not return. They carried out their duties in wars when the nation’s mission was clear and in times when the reasons and goals were murky and conflicted by politics. They acted in duty to their country and to their fellow soldier or sailor. They and their sacrifice deserve remembrance.

In failing to remember them, we fail to remember the true cost of war. Failing to remember can make turning to war too easy. War must be the last option. The nation can never shrink from the use of military force when it is necessary, but it should never be a choice easily or eagerly selected.

So whether in attending a parade, a memorial service, in visiting a cemetery, opening a photo album or in silent memory and prayer, let us remember and offer thanks. Then let us celebrate those many gifts, for they would certainly want that.

Those who today take up the nation’s defense carry a special burden passed on from those honored dead. It is a burden eloquently referenced by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1962 when, just two years from his own death, he addressed the graduating cadets at West Point.

“The long gray line has never failed us. Were you to do so, a million ghosts in olive drab, in brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses, thundering those magic words – Duty, Honor, Country.

“This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must bear and suffer the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, the wisest of all philosophers: ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’”

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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