The Marines sing of the Halls of Montezuma and shores of Tripoli. To those names -- not just for the Marines but for all branches of our armed forces -- must be added so many others: Valley Forge, Chapultepec, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, San Juan Hill, Belleau Wood, Corregidor, D-Day, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Tet, Hamburger Hill, Iraq, Afghanistan.
Those battles and so many more have one thing in common: American forces were involved heavily. Many, many Americans were wounded, some severely, and so many others died preserving and defending this country we all love.
This weekend, while we remember all those who have served in our armed forces, we especially remember those who paid the ultimate price. Remembering and honoring them is the least we can do for the sacrifices made on our behalf.
Since the earliest days of this nation, more than 666,000 members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard have died in combat, most of them far from America's shores. Another 674,000 members of our armed services died of noncombatant-related causes.
America has lost an average of 0.36 service members each day in Afghanistan. We lost 279 each day in World War I and 297 each day in World War II. During our Civil War, we lost 520 soldiers and sailors each day -- an incredible 2.4% of the population in the first half of the 1860s.
Some of those service members are buried here in the Brazos Valley. Others are in dedicated military cemeteries in this country and overseas. Wherever they are, they remain in our heart. Oddly, the is no place more peaceful than a military cemetery with its rows and rows of identical tombstones, each representing an American hero.
Americans have been pausing at the end of may to honor our war dead since 1866, only a year after the Civil War had ended. This country had been through so much, with Americans fighting Americans and do many dying not all that far from home. By 1868, Decoration Day, as it then was called, had become a national event with ceremonies held at Arlington National Cemetery -- established on the front lawn of Robert E. Lee's home. Later called Memorial Day, Americans continued to observe the day annually until it became an official federal holiday.
Each year, communities across the nation hold parades, host inspirational speakers and have ceremonies involving the American flag and, frquently, 21-gun volleys. Much of that won't happen this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That, of course, is sad, but the coronavirus can't stop us from remembering and honoring those who gave their last full measure.
If you plan to attend one of the events still taking place on Memorial Day, please wear a mask and stay at least six feet from others.
And while this year will be different in so many ways, what remains unchanged is our gratitude to those who died to keep America free.