Honor their sacrifice

Take time to attend a local service and remember those who gave their lives

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Memorial Day is traditionally a time when Americans pay their respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice — their lives — in arms since the birth of our nation.

This Memorial Day, let us remember the greatness that past generations of Americans achieved from the Boston Commons to Gettysburg to Bastogne and Mt. Suribachi to Pork Chop Hill to Da Nang to Iraq and the deserts of Afghanistan. It should inspire us with the determination to keep our country great and free.

While we should remember and learn from the past, we must not forget the present. More than 156 years after the last shot was fired at Gettysburg and 243 years after the signing of the Declaration of the Independence, the cause of liberty and human dignity still depends on the United States and those who serve in our armed forces.

There hasn’t been much of a spring in central Illinois this year between the rains and chilly temperatures. But Memorial Day brings each year a springlike, life-affirming mood. There are local observances, remembering those who fought and died in defense of our country, its ideals and freedom around the world. We should have those services. The most meaningful memorials, however, are the intimate ones, the private ones where we both mourn and celebrate the men and women who have died in this country’s service.

It isn’t fresh flowers or small American flags or carefully tended gravestones that transforms our cemeteries and the graves of the honored dead. It’s the presence of ordinary, quiet people — gathered in small groups or standing alone — paying homage to a grave that marks a life that was sacrificed. Some of these people are still racked by the loss. For others, the loss has become a very old wound with the pain lingering in memory though the scar has faded.

As we drive or walk through the cemeteries filled with tall trees and blooming flowers, we may not feel a visceral connection to those somber gravesides or the people standing there remembering.

But we must never forget their loss is our loss.

That is the real meaning of Memorial Day.