Memorial Day: Show gratitude

As Central Pennsylvania joins the rest of the nation today in observing Memorial Day, the most sobering thought in the minds of many people will be that American military personnel still are dying amid the violent unrest in the world.

The number of soldier deaths has declined since the United States’ major military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ended.

However, there still are American troops in harm’s way in those and other volatile Middle East countries, and America’s military death toll in that region continues to add new victims — brave individuals who were willing to give up their lives on behalf of this country’s and others’ best interests and safety.

Like those who died in past declared wars, these brave individuals must hold an important place in the hearts of all Americans.

Meanwhile, Americans young and old must acknowledge the growing uncertainties that exist in the world and harbor concerns about whether — and possibly how many — more American military dead might be on the minds of people of this country on Memorial Day 2018.

Unlike Veterans Day, which honors the service of all U.S. military veterans, Memorial Day is the day set aside to remember the men and women who died while serving.

Those who died in the service of this country during the more than two centuries of its existence are a big part of why this country remains a free land, as are their brothers and sisters who had the good fortune of surviving their wartime challenges and ordeals.

America is forever indebted to all of them, but especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The thousands of parades that will be held across the country today in communities large and small, while demonstrating national pride, also must be recognized for the solemn honor that they seek to bestow.

Meanwhile, the American flags that in recent days have been planted on the graves of individuals who served are an equally important sign of the nation’s appreciation of that service.

Over the years, Memorial Day has acquired additional symbolism — especially that of being the unofficial first day of summer, when families begin gathering for picnics and other outdoor recreational activities.

But one of the first tasks of millions of families nationwide today will be to visit and decorate the graves of deceased relatives and friends whose memories they hold dear, whether or not they served in one of the military branches.

As parents engage in those tasks, they should convey the meaning and messages of Memorial Day to their children, including information about the holiday’s history.

Children should understand that the holiday is not new — that honoring those who died in the service of the country is based on a tradition that began about the time of the Civil War.

Many people feel that the holiday should be observed on its traditional date of May 30, but the fact that it sometimes is not in no way diminishes its importance.

Enjoy the day, but remember what it’s about.

And, above all else, hope and pray for the safety of all American military personnel as they carry out their important responsibilities, going forward.