Memorial Day 2015: A Day to Pause, Think and Remember

Flags fly at grave markers in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Mass., Saturday, May 24, 2014. Hundreds of people pl
Flags fly at grave markers in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, Mass., Saturday, May 24, 2014. Hundreds of people planted about 57,000 flags in the cemetery on Saturday to honor the country's military veterans. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Memorial Day 2015 is next Monday, and most of us have plans for the holiday weekend: enjoying the first taste of summer, entertaining with friends, or just relaxing. This will always be part of what the Memorial Day weekend is all about.

The other part, as we all know, is about honoring this country's fallen heroes. We live in the greatest nation in the world only because time and time again brave men and women have been willing to fight for the freedoms we all too often take for granted.

Right now the U.S. has 1,473,900 men and women on active duty. Nearly 10,000 are in Afghanistan and Iraq. Others are deployed as follows:

Japan: 49,396

Germany: 38,491

South Korea: 28,500

Kuwait: 11,865

Italy: 11,354

United Kingdom: 9,124

Guam: 5,501

Bahrain: 3,373

Spain: 2,170

Turkey: 1,518

Belgium: 1,216

Cuba: 727

Portugal: 617

Qatar: 610

British Indian Ocean Terr: 546

Greece: 396

Honduras: 378

Netherlands: 375

Saudi Arabia: 322

United Arab Emirates: 321

Thailand: 288

Egypt: 280

South Africa: 221

Singapore: 188

Australia: 182

Puerto Rico: 147

Greenland: 141

Canada: 132

Memorial Day began as an occasion to honor those who fought and died in the Civil War. Places in both the North and South claim to have originated it, from Macon, Ga., and Richmond, Va., to Boalsburg, Pa., and Carbondale, Ill. But in 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the birthplace of Memorial Day. There, a ceremony on May 5, 1866, honored local Civil War veterans. Businesses closed and residents flew flags at half-staff. Supporters of Waterloo's claim say observances in other places were informal, not community-wide or one-time events.

After World War I the day was expanded to honor the service people of all American wars. In 1971 Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it is still often called Decoration Day.

Thus, the men and women we honor this Memorial Day are all those who have served this nation from its founding 239 years ago--since the Revolutionary War, we have lost 1,010,485 men and women in combat--as well as all those who defend us now against the threat of global terrorism.

Permit us to wish you a great weekend. But let us never forget the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed so much in past wars so we could enjoy this holiday, just as we honor those who stand duty today to keep us safe.