Nearly a month after the death of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden, the sacrifices made by more than 6,000 Americans lost fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq in the past decade should be remembered in high relief this Memorial Day. Those fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines join generations of brave men and women who were willing to pay the ultimate price for the country.
As of last week, 208 Floridians have died in the line of duty in Iraq before the troop withdrawal and 105 have died in Afghanistan, including Tampa Bay's latest casualty, Lance Cpl. Ronald Freeman of Plant City. A Marine minesweeper, Freeman died April 28 after setting off an explosion while searching for bombs.
This will be the first Memorial Day that Freeman's wife, daughter, son, sisters, brother, father and friends face without the 26-year-old known as "Dougie." His infant son, William Douglas, born April 18, will have to learn who his father was through others' memories.
As backyard barbecues and weekend revelry usher in summer, it's important to remember such sacrifices, not just in tribute, but also as a common bond among all Americans. It is all too easy, in today's heated partisan climate and punishing economy, to forget we are a country united in experience and aspiration. Those bonds, if nurtured, are far stronger than the politics that threaten to divide us.
For those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is hope of more peaceful times ahead as the war in Iraq winds down and at least some troop withdrawals are on the horizon in Afghanistan. Soldiers will return home, and they will need the best of what the home front can provide, whether it be employment, education, health care or a nod and a handshake at the street corner. Americans should honor the fallen by providing returning veterans with their unqualified support.
All told, more than 1.2 million Americans over the course of more than two centuries have sacrificed their lives for this grand democratic experiment and the values it strives to uphold. They fought not for an America that tears itself apart but one that comes together to achieve great things.
Today, on beaches and along parade routes, in back yards and graveyards, honor that sacrifice with pride and gratitude.