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Take Some Time To Thank Our Veterans

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. -- John McCrae, 1915

There are few things as moving to me as viewing a national cemetery. Seeing those rows upon rows of white crosses, seemingly standing at attention, timeless and stark reminders of the price of freedom and the supreme sacrifice made by America's best to preserve it. The crosses represent folks who all gave their innocence in service to their country, all giving something to their fellow citizens, and some giving all.

My dad and many of my uncles fought in World War II and Korea. My father, an infantryman whose name I proudly carry, landed at Omaha Beach, marched in the Liberation of Paris and was among the holdouts at Bastogne. My uncle Abe was also at the Bulge. My uncle Gene served in the Pacific, fighting the last holdouts on the Japanese home islands and witnessing firsthand the aftermath of the atomic bomb.

My situation isn't much different than most folks my age. Such was the sacrifice of what Tom Brokaw termed, "The Greatest Generation," that we all had firsthand contact of some sort with such heroes.

I've always been awed and humbled by such folks. But really I've been awed by all members of that generation -- a generation that when duty called they pitched in at home and abroad to preserve the institutions and the way of life that had been passed to them to uphold. Members of that generation are leaving us by the thousands each day.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed May 5, 1868, by Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, reports It was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The National Holiday Act of 1971 set the official observance day as the last Monday in May.

Many folks, and I am among them, lament that Memorial Day isn't what it used to be. Many folks think the day is aimed at honoring all dead rather than just veterans. And, rather than being a time of remembrance and reflection, Memorial Day has turned out to serve as more a mark of the official start of summer vacation than anything else.

I agree this nation could do more to honor our fallen and those in service, and to honor these folks more while they live, with better benefits and services.

But I do think there seems to be a renewed spirit of respect among Americans for our veterans, and folks in uniform and their families. When you gather with your loved ones on Monday, take a few moments to invoke the memory of the millions of largely faceless folks who made it possible. Better yet, carry that spirit throughout the year by personally thanking the folks in uniform when you encounter them. -- Joe Roybal