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Memorial Day a holiday and a day of memories

May 27, 2008

Many citizens of the Tri-State area spent yesterday enjoying the last day of a three-day holiday weekend. Memorial Day has become the unofficial start of the summer vacation season, but as our readers come home from the beach or clean up the barbecue grill, we ask them to spend some time today reflecting on the true meaning of Memorial 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 David Petraeus, 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, 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 frequent demonstrations against against the U.S. in foreign countries are so much more chilling because it is readily apparent that they are 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. Please don't forget any of them.

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