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Memorial Day 2012

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This weekend the United States celebrates Memorial Day. Sadly, for many Americans the holiday mostly marks the beginning of summer rather than a time to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country.

All across America people will flock to beaches and backyards. They will barbeque, picnic and play baseball. They will boat, fish, swim and bike. Some will watch parades in small town America, sporting events on television, while others will shop at boutiques and huge malls. Hopefully, some Americans will visit the graves of those who died for the freedoms they enjoy.

Since the country's founding there have been more than one million U.S. war casualties. The Civil War was this nation's bloodiest, as the death toll exceeded 623,000. More than 116,000 Americans died in World War I, 405,000 Americans died in World War II, 36,516 thousand died in the Korean War, and 58,209 thousand perished in the Vietnam War.

Over the past decade more than 2.2 million American service members have seen active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. In that time more than 6,300 servicemen have died in those wars, and the conflict in Afghanistan continues. But the tragedy of war extends well beyond death. Tens of thousands of service men and women have suffered life-altering injuries, depression and other serious problems, and many struggle to reclaim a normal life.

Very few Americans are directly impacted by today's military conflicts. One reason is that an all-volunteer military is fighting America's wars. The Afghanistan War, which has grown increasingly unpopular among Americans, has continued for more than a decade and the outcome remains uncertain. News coverage of the Afghan War, especially by cable news channels and network newscasts, is sparse. America, still struggling to regain its economic footing, is suffering from a collective war fatigue. Yet heroic and courageous soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen fight on every day to preserve the country's freedoms.

Memorial Day is a day for reconciliation, a day to come together no matter one's political views. From sea to shining sea, the American flag will be raised to the top of the staff and then lowered to the half-staff position in memory of those who have died. Then at noon the flag will be raised to full-staff to symbolize that those who are living will rise up to continue the fight for liberty and justice for all.

Let us all -- Democrat, Republican, Independent and undeclared -- take a moment during our holiday weekend to pause and say thank you to the millions who have sacrificed their lives for America, and also to thank the brave soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen who continue to defend this country.