By Dakota Wood
The war in Ukraine, brutally slogging along some 5,000 miles from the U.S., involves another people but it serves as a reminder to Americans of what it takes to keep one’s country safe, free, and prosperous. It also reminds us that there are dangers in this world that can only be stopped by people willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us.
People are the heart of a nation’s strength, especially those comparatively few who step forward to serve their community and their country in military service. Wars are rather rare, but the nation’s future can hang in the balance when war comes and the loss of life that results in defeating an enemy can number in the thousands, sometimes the tens of thousands.
Our history is punctuated with such crises and sacrifices. Citizen-patriots rose to the challenge of securing America’s birth nearly 250 years ago, with some 8,000 new Americans giving their all to defend our fledgling republic.
The Civil War, two world wars, operations against terrorists who have attacked America at home and Americans abroad, and wars to protect U.S. interests not just in our hemisphere but also in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, have resulted in the loss of nearly 700,000 Americans.
These men and women did not seek death; it came to them through their service. Their motivations included protecting the lives of those they loved; defending their homeland that has provided opportunity and freedom previously unknown in history; and facing dangers loyally alongside their brothers and sisters with whom they trained, deployed, and surged into combat as they answered their nation’s call.
These warriors were someone’s son or daughter; they might have been a husband or wife, father or mother, sister or brother. They were surely friends. They meant something to someone, and their loss struck deep to those whose lives they touched. These realities are why we have memorials to the fallen; cemeteries dedicated to their internment; poems, books, songs, and speeches written in their honor; and specific occasions, like Memorial Day, set aside on which to reflect on all of this.
This Memorial Day, take a moment to think about what our country would be like without the sacrifice made by those who ensured our birth as a nation, who maintained our union, and who have defended our homeland and way of life across two and a half centuries.
Many people serve in a vast number of ways. But some have served to the point of making the ultimate sacrifice. Remembering them is the point of Memorial Day.
Dakota Wood is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense and editor of Heritage’s Index of U.S. Military Strength. Previously, he served for two decades in the U.S. Marine Corps.