This is the sixth year in a row that I have the opportunity and the privilege to write a message honoring all the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country in military service.
Memorial Day should be the Day to honor and remember the fallen of wars past -- and it is. As has always been an American tradition, a lot will be said and written in honor of those who have fallen in previous wars: The Vietnam War, the Korean War, World Wars I and II, and all other wars and conflicts since the founding of our nation.
Sadly, for the past 10 years or so, Memorial Day has also been a Day to honor and grieve for those brave men and women who have continued to die on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan -- too many still dying, as we speak and write, in Afghanistan.
Sadly, for the past 10 years or so, it has become a grim ritual at every relevant anniversary, whether it be Memorial Day or Veterans Day -- even Christmas -- to count, mourn and honor the additional lives that have been lost in our most recent wars in the previous 12 months.
So, as we observe Memorial Day 2013, we feel almost compelled to once again count the number of our nation's service members who have given their "last full measure of devotion" since the last Memorial Day, our newest heroes, and to say "no more," or at least to hope that the next Memorial Day, the next Veterans Day, the next Christmas we will have to count no more, to mourn no more -- to know that all our troops are safely home.
And so, this Memorial Day we once again have a special place in our hearts for the nearly 300 brave American men and women who have been killed in and around Afghanistan since last Memorial Day.
Some will ask:
"Why dwell on such numbers, such anniversaries -- on a still-ongoing war?"
"Why not just remember and honor the more than one million fallen American heroes of past wars-- and move on?"
Finally, some will say, the Obama administration has already announced a "date certain" for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan -- the end of 2014 -- "so what is another 18 months or so?"
First, it is not a "so what" to the parents, children, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters of those troops who will give their lives between now and that "date certain" -- assuming that such date certain holds, assuming that after that date certain thousands of our men and women will not still be in harm's way as trainers, as advisers or in some other innocuous-sounding roles.
But, more important, how can we honor and mourn these troops and all the fallen heroes before them if we don't, as Americans, resolve that our nation will never again send our men and women into harm's way in distant lands on a whim, on bombast, on a prevarication.
Resolve that if and when we do so -- as a last resort and only in defense of our nation and our freedom-- we will make sure our troops have the nation's support and the means and leadership to achieve the mission so that we can, quickly and honestly, claim "mission accomplished" and bring our troops safely home.
Finally, resolve that when we do send our men and women into harm's way, we will take proper care of them when they return, especially of those with physical and mental wounds, and in particular of the dependent loved ones left behind by our fallen heroes.
That is the least we can do -- an obligation -- out of respect and gratitude for the more than 1.3 million men and women who are ready to give their lives protecting our country now and in the future, and in memory and in honor of those who have gone before them.
These are my humble thoughts this Memorial Day to recognize the sacrifices not only of our fallen but also of all our wounded -- some horribly so -- and of all those who are still missing. But they are also thoughts that have been expressed much more eloquently by others before me in awesome respect for our Fallen.
In his Memorial Day message, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki quotes Civil War-era orator, Robert Green Ingersoll:
They died for liberty--they died for us. They are at rest.
They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless ... Earth may run red with other wars, but they are at peace.
In the midst of battles, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death.
Lead Image: Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or The Old Guard, place American flags at every grave in Arlington National Cemetery, May 23, 2013, in remembrance of those who died in service to our country. The tradition dates back more than 60 years. (Photo and caption DOD)