A year ago in August, the last U.S. Armed Forces left Afghanistan, ending a 20-year war that prompted most Americans to question why our young men and women were serving there.
Thirteen Americans were killed and 15 wounded when a suicide bomb exploded as the U.S. was pulling out of what’s been called a “forever war.” Those Americans were added to the more than 2,500 U.S. military personnel killed in action in Afghanistan.
That “forever war” came to an end. But the cost was dear, as is any military engagement. We mourn them this weekend, and remember their families who have to bear the pain of their loss. Just as we remember all who died in American uniforms, because they answered the call, as Abraham Lincoln said, and gave “the last full measure of devotion” to their country.
Since the 19th century, a day in late May has been a time of year when Americans — some of them, anyway — put aside the fuss and bother of daily life and think about something that isn’t easy for some of us to grasp: the willingness of fellow citizens to expose themselves to mortal danger in the service of their country. Their sacrifice is what we must take time to consider and appreciate.
Officially sanctioned ceremonies for remembering the war dead go back at least as far as Homer. And every year since 1868, when a military order came down to place flowers on both Union and Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery, Americans have continued that time honored tradition of refusing to forget at the crossroads of spring and summer . What was originally called “Decoration Day” was created as a time for families to go to cemeteries to clean the graves of their loved ones and plant flowers.
President Barack Obama eulogized those who died in service of their country: “If the fallen could speak to us, what would they say? Would they console us? Perhaps they might say that they were willing to sacrifice all for their country; that while they couldn’t possibly know they would be called to leave this world for another, they were willing to take that chance to save the lives of their brothers and sisters in arms.”
We’re lucky that the North Fork doesn’t forget. As President George H.W. Bush said one Memorial Day: “Each of the patriots whom we remember on this day was first a beloved son or daughter, a brother or sister, or a spouse, friend and neighbor.”