This Memorial Day, as with all others, we honor the military and our fallen heroes—the brave men and women who fought and died so all of us can enjoy the freedom that is our nation’s crowning glory.
This year, however, we do it in a time of crisis, a pandemic that has already claimed tens of thousands of lives across our country and around the world. This is, therefore, a Memorial Day unlike any that we have known before, and so the depth of our appreciation for the sacrifices made by our brave men and women in uniform should be greater than ever.
Almost all of us are making sacrifices of our own now—from the grieving families of coronavirus victims; to the millions of Americans who are suddenly unemployed or underemployed through no fault of their own; to the small business owners who have lost their life’s investment or are in danger of doing so; to the leaders of business, academic, religious, cultural and charitable organizations who face agonizing financial and personnel decisions; to the incredibly brave medical workers who have pushed themselves to the limit and repeatedly risked their own lives treating coronavirus patients.
But even beyond all that loss and pain, think of the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who face the danger of contracting Covid-19 on top of the dangers they always face in serving our nation in foreign, often hostile places.
Remember that of the 1.3 million men and women now on active duty, more than 165,000 are stationed in some 160 countries doing what no one else is willing to do, including in perilous places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
And never forget that our nation has paid a steep price for the freedoms we enjoy. Casualties of U.S.-involved conflicts include:
- World War I—116,516 American lives lost
- World War II—405,399
- Korean War—36,574
- Operation Desert Shield/Storm—383
- Operation Iraqi Freedom—4,411
- Operation New Dawn—73
- Operation Enduring Freedom—2,440
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel—4,424
- Operation Inherent Resolve—74
The names of some of those operations may be unfamiliar to you, but the meaning of the casualty figures becomes clear when you know:
- Operation New Dawn applies to the fighting in Iraq 2010-11.
- Operation Enduring Freedom is the official name for the Global War on Terrorism.
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel applies to military operations in Afghanistan targeting Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership and infrastructure, 2001-present.
- Operation Inherent Resolve is the operational name for the military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Since the late 1950s on the Thursday before Memorial Day, soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the oldest active-duty infantry unit in the Army, place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. A 24-hour patrol is conducted every day during the weekend to ensure each flag remains standing.
Depending on where we live and what our personal choices are, many of us will miss the traditional family gatherings, cookouts, trips to the beach, ballgames and other pleasures of this holiday marking the unofficial start of summer.
But however you choose to mark this special event, let us wish you a very happy—and safe—Memorial Day. And let us all keep in our thoughts and in our hearts the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed so much in the past and all those who serve and sacrifice for their nation now.
Robert L. Dilenschneider is founder and chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm headquartered in New York City. The former CEO of Hill and Knowlton, Inc., he is also author of more than a dozen books, including the best-selling “Power and Influence.”