We are just a day away from the start of the Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial beginning of summer. Families will gather together, graves of loved ones will be visited and decorated and services that remember those who gave their lives in service to their country will be held with the proper respect and pageantry.
The holiday can seem divided, to the point that it seems there are two reasons for the weekend: remembrance and relaxation.
I feel this holiday truly encapsulates the essence of our nation and why we are unique. Without the service of the men and women of the armed forces, there is a very real possibility that we would not enjoy the freedom that we have to go and have a picnic.
Exaggeration? I don't think so. During the early days of World War II, before our nation turned its full attention and industrial production to the war effort, there was a very real possibility that the Axis powers: Germany, Italy and Japan could have succeeded in conquering the world.
I doubt they would have been able to fully get the job done because, even though they posed as allies, they didn't trust each other and would have willingly turned on each other.
I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the number of people who died in WWII. It is estimated that 400,000 American soldiers died in the war. When you factor in the many nations that were involved in the global conflict and the civilians that were killed, the death toll rises to a staggering estimated total of 48,231,700.
As technology has improved, warfare has become more sophisticated with fewer civilian and military deaths. Advancements in communication have brought the battlefield to our living rooms. We have, I believe, become desensitized and detached from the very real human toll of war.
With the advent of the all volunteer military, the percentage of our nation's population directly involved in active service has dropped to two percent. Modern warfare has had very little effect on the daily lives of most Americans. We don't have rationing, scrap drives or any other shared sacrifice. The best we can manage is a yellow ribbon.
Memorial Day serves as an opportunity to, for lack of a better way to phrase it, put a face on the cost of freedom. The face of a family member, friend or neighbor.
It is in that spirit that the Sentinel and 11 other sponsors brought the travelling photo exhibit, "Remembering Our Fallen" to Le Mars this week. The display is at the Plymouth County Courthouse and has photos of the 71 Iowa men and women who have died in active service since Sept. 11, 2001. It will be here through Memorial Day, and the courthouse will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Memorial Day.
The face of war is a father, mother, husband, wife, brother or sister. This display quietly and powerfully brings the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan home.
I encourage you to take a few moments to bear witness to the sacrifices of these fallen soldiers. Two of the 71 grew up in the county: Chad Groepper of Kingsley and Toby Meister of Remsen.
Le Mars is home to one of the finer Memorial Day ceremonies in the area. The Plymouth County Courthouse square is awash in flags and we remember the fallen. We are also fortunate to have Veterans Memorial Park in Le Mars, a beautiful, contemplative space where you can literally walk through time to see the names of the people from the county who died in service to their country.
During the coming weekend, make the time to pay your respects to the people who fought to make sure you could have the right to be free.
It's the least we can do for those who have done so much for us.
As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 712-546-7031, x40 or toll free 1-800-728-0066 x40.
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