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Local view: If we can’t honor war dead, we’re lost as a nation

What is Memorial Day? What is it, really? Memorial Day is a day of “remembrance” for all soldiers, veterans and every American citizen. It is a day on which we as a nation honor our war dead — and only our war dead. It is to remember people who died during a time of war or on battlefields, preserving our nation’s sovereignty and interests. We remember: These are lives that were never lived.

What is sacrifice without remembrance? Absolutely nothing, and that is why I am writing this. We do not know the war dead, but we can take the time to be grateful for their service to our nation and their willingness to lay down their lives. They are the pillars of our national freedom.

This also is a time to remember the families who gave their sons and daughters to our nation’s defense. Because of my personal experiences in war, every day is Memorial Day. And on May 30 every year I give special acknowledgement and consideration to the families of Daniel McConnell (who died in Iraq), Stephen Hennessey (who died in Vietnam), Mike

McKeever (Vietnam), Jeremy Vrooman (Iraq), Fred Murray (Iraq) and countless others who gave their lives here locally, abroad and throughout our history.

For veterans, Memorial Day is the most hallowed day of remembrance and should never be politicized.

There are people in the community who think anyone who serves his or her country in the military is a warmonger. This could not be further from the truth. As Gen. Douglas MacArthur once stated, “The soldier above all others prays for peace; for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” War is the absolute worst of humanity, and anyone who has experienced the surreal carnage of war can attest to its ugliness.

Military action should always be a last resort in dealing with rogue governments, terrorist groups or tyrants. Unfortunately, we live in a world that is unsafe. There are a lot of bad people who wish to do harm to others just because they may not have the same ethnicity or religious faith or because they are of a different sexual orientation or because of many other unjustifiable reasons. Although it would be nice to live in a utopian world, it is not a reality: Human nature is the one constant that never changes. Believe me, I and every American soldier would be the first in line to fight and, if necessary, die to eradicate hatred, war and injustice.

With that being said, I believe this quote to be characteristic of all American soldiers: “A true American soldier fights not because they hate what is in front of them but because they love what is behind them.”

We have been in many conflicts and wars in our nation’s short 239-year history, from Lexington and Concord to Afghanistan. In that span, we have lost more than 1.2 million men and women in battle. We do not have to agree on the circumstances or events that cause the deaths of our soldiers through government action or inaction, but we must continue to take one day out of the year to remember them.

We also can mitigate the pain for families, veterans and especially combat veterans left behind by being mindful and respectful of their sacrifices.

If we cannot do this for our honored dead and their families, then we are lost as a nation.

John Marshall of Duluth served in the 41st Infantry Regiment in Iraq and is captain of the Duluth Honor Guard.