Today America remembers its war dead. More than two million men and women have heroically and courageously given their lives for their country since its founding.
From the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, to Gettysburg in 1863, to the Battle of Amiens in 1918, to Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Battle of Pork Chop Hill in 1953, the Tet Offensives in 1968 and 1969, the Invasion of Grenada in 1983, to Desert Storm in 1991, to Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. servicemen have died defending freedom.
In a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, President Barack Obama paid tribute to America's war dead. "They are heroes, each and every one," he said. "They gave America the most precious thing they had, the last full measure of devotion. And because they did, we are who we are today: a free and prosperous nation, the greatest in the world."
In the past decade about 2.5 million members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and related Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to Defense Department records. Nearly 40,000 Americans have been deployed more than five times, and more than 400,000 have undergone three of more deployments. In that time about 7,000 U.S. servicemen have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president also spoke about those who are currently on the front lines. "We must remember our countrymen are still serving, still fighting, putting their lives on the line for all of us," President Obama said.
Hundreds of thousands of veterans have returned home after selflessly putting it all on the line for the country they love. But all too often the system they defended has failed them. The transition into daily life can be difficult under the best of circumstances. For the tens of thousands of veterans suffering from physical or mental injuries, the post war care is inadequate.
An unprecedented number of veterans are facing the challenges of civilian life. Some have enrolled in college. For instance, John Byrne, a Valor Award winner for a 36-hour fire fight in Afghanistan in which four of his comrades were killed. He spent more than a decade in service of his country. He is now a sophomore at Hofstra University, nearly 20 years older than his classmates. But he is also working part time and trying to start a family. While he is not complaining, it isn't easy dealing with homework, work and the emotional effects of battle.
He recently wrote on his blog, "I think that feeling and emotions I had about going to Afghanistan were rooted in the things my parents instilled in me, being a good person, and the love of being American. Serving my country gave me a proud feeling that I am unable to put into words."
Let us remember not only America's war dead. Let us redouble our efforts to care for those veterans who have returned home in the hopes of having productive and meaningful lives.
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;" wrote William Shakespeare in Henry V, "For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."