Almost 150 years ago, Memorial Day grew from the ashes of the Civil War. Decades later, its meaning and importance endure.
Honoring the sacrifices of our fallen servicemen and women is honoring everything they have fought to preserve time and time again: our lives, liberty and the right to the pursuit of happiness. Today, we take a moment to pay a tribute that cannot begin to match the boundlessness of what they have given.
War has touched every corner of America. More than 2,200 servicemen and women have died in the Afghan conflict alone. In October, Spc. Brittany Gordon of St. Petersburg died from wounds suffered after a suicide bomber hit her unit. She was 24.
But while today's memorial parades and ceremonies are meant to honor the sacrifices of our fallen heroes, we should not forget the service of today's veterans and soldiers who are facing their own challenges. A recent census in Hillsborough County found that one-fifth of the county's 2,275 homeless people are veterans.
Nor should we neglect the bleak reality of mental health conditions in the military. Last year, suicides displaced combat fatalities as the leading cause of death, and the Huffington Post has reported that one veteran dies by suicide every day. Posttraumatic stress disorder continues to cause pain, and the number of sexual assaults is staggering. More should be done on all these fronts so that a culture of silence doesn't overwhelm soldiers and veterans.
There are reasons for hope. Though the unemployment rate among verterans still exceeds the national average, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden's Joining Forces project has helped more than 290,000 military spouses and veterans get hired or retrained. Local projects and national aid have helped decrease homelessness among veterans significantly. These are the efforts our service members deserve.
Today, as we herald the unofficial beginning of summer, many are remembering the unfathomable pain of losing of a brother, friend, mother or child to war. Indeed, over the course of more than two centuries, more than 1.2 million Americans have given their lives to protect this country and its values.
Memorial Day reminds us to find light in the darkness, to honor and celebrate those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. After all, Memorial Day's date was chosen to ensure a bounty of blooming flowers with which to decorate the graves of those we've lost. The perennial beauty of these flowers reminds us year after year of so much: the profound pain of loss, the courage and strength of American veterans, our deep gratefulness, and the cost of this free, united land.