Monday, May 26, 2008

Honoring the Brave

For many Americans, Memorial Day marks little more than the start of summer. It's a day off going to the pool or grill in the back yard. But it's no holiday for America's best. Memorial Day will find our troops fighting terrorists and other enemies of freedom around the globe. For their sake, let's ponder what this holiday really means.

I recently spent some time on this website were you can view a Interactive Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Which was amazing to me. I never been able to make it to Washington D.C. to view this memorial, I never knew the large scale of deaths until I checked out this interactive website.

Those simple grave markers tell great stories. Representing those who served bravely, brave heroes who had families and never made it back to see them. They made the ultimate sacrifice so that the rest of us could live in freedom and prosperity.

Still others memorialize those who died in the conflict that created Arlington and so many other national cemeteries. Their service in our Civil War helped end slavery, allowing even those who came here in chains to experience freedom.

Memorial Day is also a time to celebrate the living, those Americans who voluntarily wear our country's uniform and fight for liberty. It's worth remembering that every person who has enlisted since late 2001 has done so knowing we're at war, and understanding combat experience is likely.

It's amazing that such a small group of people are able to accomplish so much. Less than 1% of our country's population serves in the military, yet the U.S. has power worldwide.

So what do we owe these brave volunteers, other than our respect and gratitude? Mainly, to give them what they deserve: the tools to win. That means spending what's necessary for new weapons systems, including aircraft carriers and fighter jets. That's not too much to ask of a nation as wealthy as ours.

Today the United States spends much more on leisure pursuits than on national defense. Every year Americans shell out $589 billion on entertainment and dining out, and $543 billion on leisure travel. Meanwhile, our government invests $537 billion on national defense. As a percentage of our gross domestic product (about 4 percent today), that's far less than we've spent in past wars.

As Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned shortly after assuming his post last year, "I think as a country we're just going to have to devote more resources to national security in the world that we're living in right now." That's worth remembering this weekend.

For generations our country has fielded an elite fighting force, as Kaiser Wilhelm II, Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein learned the hard way. That's certainly true today. "Wartime U.S. military enlistees are better educated, wealthier and more rural on average than their civilian peers," Mr. Kane discovered.

Today let's honor these patriots. Thank them for their service. Because of them, the United States faces a bright future of freedom and prosperity.

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