The definition of liberty relaxes over Memorial Day weekend, along withthe workers taking time off and the students newly escaped fromhomework. If freedom is on many minds at all, it's the freedom to sleepin, catch up on chores, visit a relative or take in a movie.
But with the nation very much at war on two fronts, Kansans and allAmericans owe it to warriors past and present to devote some time andthought to the sobering point of this holiday.Sadly, since last Memorial Day, the death toll of those with Kansas tieshas risen.
Army Col. John McHugh, who led a program based at Fort Leavenworth, diedMay 18 in Afghanistan. Army Sgt. Ralph Mena of Hutchinson died May 3 inIraq. Army Sgt. Aaron Smith of Manhattan died in October in Afghanistan.On Sept. 12, Kansas lost Army Sgt. Tyler Juden of Arkansas City and ArmyCpl. Daniel Cox of Parsons (a Winfield native), both in attacks inAfghanistan.
None of these men knew his last day was at hand. McHugh, a father offive and one of the highest-ranking casualties in Afghanistan, wrote onFacebook on May 15: "On the road again tomorrow. Heading to Afghanistanfor a couple of weeks. If my travel doesn't get wacky I should be backin time for the Indy 500."
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Three days later, his convoy was targeted by a suicide bomber. Twelvedays later, on Thursday, his body was buried at Fort LeavenworthNational Cemetery, to the sounds of a bagpiper's "Amazing Grace," abugler's "Taps" and a 21-gun salute.
Spend time online learning about the fallen and you are overwhelmed asmuch by admiration as loss, and by the sense that the mission was theirown as much as the military's and the nation's.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking at a 2008 wreath-laying
ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, noted that mourning the wardead evokes "remorse that they suffered, awe at how they bore thatsuffering, pride in the fine people they were, gratitude for theirwillingness to be the guarantors of our freedom. Their sacrifice is areminder that we must go on, and be worthy of them, and finish theirwork."
Yet it's troubling that the wars and issues of the military and nationalsecurity seem to be receding in public consciousness and politicaldebate. As Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt noted lastweek, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, "and the wisdom of committing toor withdrawing from them, have hardly been mentioned in the hard-foughtcampaigns of the spring."
And it will be tragic if the tradition of attending Memorial Dayobservances is dying out, as Randy Thies, retired archaeologist with theKansas State Historical Society, suggested to The Eagle.
Has war become routine and removed, such that the deaths of U.S. troopscan be shrugged off? Surely not.
As long as Americans are fighting and dying in defense of freedom aroundthe world, the stateside beneficiaries of such sacrifice need to go outof their way to show some gratitude, even awe.
Fly the flag. Go to a Memorial Day ceremony. Visit Veterans MemorialPark at Central and Greenway. Contribute time, talent or money to anorganization that supports the troops.
Thank a veteran.
Just please don't treat this Memorial Day like any other day - not with94,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Afghanistan and 92,000 in Iraq,and not with the U.S. military deaths in those wars at 5,400 andcounting.
- For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman