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The U.S. we might have had without the veterans' sacrifice

May 28, 1999

The Herald-Mail newspapers will not publish this coming Monday, May 31, so that our employees may enjoy the Memorial Day holiday with their families. This holiday has become the unofficial start of the summer vacation season, but as our readers head to the beach, or fire up the barbecue grill, we ask them to spend just some time reflecting on the true meaning of the day.

Memorial Day was first observed on May 5, 1866 in Waterloo, N.Y. to honor those who died in the Civil War. For many years afterward, ceremonies were coordinated by the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans of the Civil War.

Consider how different our nation might have been had the Civil War not been fought. A country half the size of the present U.S. certainly would not have been as strong or as prosperous, and without President Lincoln's intervention, can anyone say for sure how long slavery might have continued in the South?

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Would a divided America have fared as well in World War I, or been able to fight on two fronts against Germany and Japan in World War II? Would an America with half the resources have forced the end of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union?

No one can say for sure. What we can say for certain is that behind every general with a grand strategy, all the way from George Washington to Colin Powell, there were many, many foot soldiers who decided not to cut and run, but to stand and fight.

Those are the people we ought to honor on Monday, because without their sacrifices, we'd live in a very different place today, a place without ballot boxes, free speech or the right to protest government actions. The recent demonstrations against the U.S. embassy in China were all the more chilling because it was all too apparent that they were allowed only because the government decided to allow them.

And while you're thinking about America's veterans, give some thought to their families, who endured their absence for years while the nation fought its battles. Sometimes the young soldiers never came back, leaving a hole in some families that will never be filled.

For every veteran who marches in a parade, there's another who won't ever march again, and a wife or mother whose tears won't ever completely dry.

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