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Observing Memorial Day once again, but differently

We first presented this Memorial Day weekend editorial a decade ago. The sentiments remain the same. So does the cost of war. This year, however, many of the celebrations have changed, and we have new reason to reflect on sacrifices made for the common good.

In 2020, the scourge of COVID-19 has created new heroes, including those whose dedication to their fellow countrymen and women stricken by the virus has cost them their own lives. We honor their service as well, not with parades, because we are foregoing those to do our part to keep each other safe — but with the same gratitude we hold for those who died for this nation in wartime.

This weekend we honor the memory of some three-quarters of a million men and women who have died in our nation's service — dating back to the 8,000 killed during the Revolutionary War, adding in the hundreds of thousands lost in the Civil War, the two world wars and now, 4,400 in Iraq and 1,000 in Afghanistan.

Over the years Memorial Day — first observed as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868 when flowers decorated the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery — has focused less on tributes to the fallen and more on barbecues, beach outings and holiday sales promotions by car dealers, furniture stores and other retailers.

Though it's tempting to bemoan the substitution of solemn ceremonies with self-indulgence and consumerism, let's not forget that so many in the military gave their lives so that succeeding generations could continue to enjoy American privileges. If those freedoms include a picnic in the park, a trip to the mall or simply an afternoon watching the Indianapolis 500 on TV, so be it.

A more disheartening observation is that we never stop adding to the list of those we honor on Memorial Day.

Even before this nation declared its independence from the British, Colonists died while fighting King Philip's War against the Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Nipmuck Indians from 1675 to 1676; in King William's War against France (1689-97); the French and Indian War (1756-63) and in the Cherokee War (1759-61).

After the American Revolution ended in 1783 the United States enjoyed 15 years of peace before it fought in the Franco-American Naval War (1798-1800); the Barbary Wars against Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli (1801-05 and 1815); and then against the British again in the War of 1812 (1812-15).

Leading up to the Civil War, Americans fought and died in the Creek War (1813-14); the War of Texas Independence against Mexico (1814-36) and the Mexican-American War (1846-48).

After the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 still more Americans perished in the Spanish-American War in 1898; World War I from 1917 to 1918; World War II from 1941 to 1945; the Korean War (1950-53); and the Vietnam War (1965-75).

U.S. military also died during the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba; the 1983 Grenada intervention; the 1989 invasion of Panama; the Persian Gulf War (1990-91); the Intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995-96). We have been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001; Iraq, 2003.

Despite all the freedom this bloodshed has achieved, we still endorse the sentiments expressed by Benjamin Franklin: "After much occasion to consider the folly and mischiefs of a state of warfare, and the little or no advantage obtained even by those nations who have conducted it with the most success, I have been apt to think that there has never been, nor ever will be, any such thing as a good war, or a bad peace."

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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