Remember Americans who gave all

France WWI Memorial Day-8

A U.S. Marine walks with a small girl through headstones prior to a Memorial Day commemoration at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France on May 27, 2018. The cemetery contains more that 2,000 American dead.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

The term "Americans" was first used during the period just before the American Revolution to describe the non-indigenous, but permanent inhabitants of our eastern continental shores. Aside from the geographic context, "American" was used as an identity to describe a collective new culture and way of life rearing its head among the upstart colonies, then barely 150 years old.

When the cannon and muskets roared during the Revolution, "Americans" had evolved in purpose — freedom and independence — and as a military force to fight — and die if necessary — for the principles that Americans had come to view as their birthright and destiny in this, their adopted land.

As it turned out, the victory of independence was just a beginning. A nation built around a vision of independence and freedom and the willingness to protect those principles would require immense resources, hard work, persistence — and a recurring call for military service. Nationhood, as it turned out, was a vast, long-term and costly building project. And none of those costs would be greater than those American lives given answering the call of the nation’s military.

Americans have answered that call faithfully for about 250 years. This weekend, and specifically on Monday — Memorial Day — Americans who live by the freedoms secured by our military men and women, will reflect on those who have given all in the nation's armed services. It's a tribute whose origins are well-defined and as meaningful now as they were when the nation first stepped up to honor the sacrifice of its fallen warriors.

That happened after the Civil War, which had brought unfathomable levels of carnage to the nation and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides. The public and its leaders felt compelled to observe a national day of recognition and tribute to those serving in the military who had died in the great conflict.

That day, originally called Decoration Day, later became Memorial Day in honor of all in the military who laid down their lives in service to their country. Then, in 1971, this day of tribute was elevated by Congress to the status of a national holiday, observed each year on the final Monday in May.

That would be this Monday, of course, when services will be held across America — including in the Albemarle — to honor the military fallen whose ranks are ever-evolving. Such should be true of the public's tribute. The toll that follows is a painful reminder of what has been given by Americans. The military deaths in America's major conflicts:

Revolutionary War (1775-83): 4,435

War of 1812 (1812-15): 2,260

Mexican War (1846-48): 13,283

Civil War (1861-65): 750,000

Spanish American War (1899-1901): 2,446

World War I (1917-18): 116,516

World War II (1941-46): 405,399

Korean War (1950-53): 36,574

Vietnam War (1964-73): 58,220

Persian Gulf War (1990-91): 1,947

Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-14): 2,494*

Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-10): 4,424*

(* Some combat deaths may not be included, as on-going military operations continue in these areas.)

The Memorial Day holiday is also the beginning of summer vacation season, when Americans take to the highways, skies, rails and waterways as a respite from work and for the enjoyment of the immense gifts of recreation, scenery and national resources our country has to offer. As that well-deserved vacation season begins this weekend, remember those Americans who put this country and its future first.