Each soldier’s sacrifice always admirable

Freedom New Mexico

Sentiment exists for changing the day Memorial Day is observed back to the traditional date of May 30 — it was changed in 1968 to the last Monday in May to give us another three-day weekend.

Ironically, May 30 was chosen as the date in 1866 to celebrate Decoration Day, when the graves of soldiers who had died in the Civil War were to be decorated with flags and flowers.

That date was chosen precisely because it had no prior significance. It was not the day of a significant battle or armistice ceremony. The idea was simply to celebrate those who had died in service to the country.

Memorial Day is seen by those who prefer holidays without much history as something like the unofficial beginning of summer. So perhaps there’s little harm in observing it largely with (for most of us) three consecutive days of not going to work.

But it is still appropriate to pause for a moment or more to consider the kind of sacrifices so many have made in service to the country.

Asked recently what was the most consequential decision of his young presidency, President Barack Obama did not hesitate to say it was the decision to send 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. He knew that many of them would be wounded or injured and some would not come back alive.

Ordering young men and women into harm’s way is a solemn undertaking. Volunteering to be one of those who could be sent is, if anything, even more solemn.

That is why it is so important to be sure conflicts abroad really do involve the core interests of the United States, that they are not undertaken for transient or ephemeral reasons.

There are reasons to doubt whether the Iraq war or the conflict in Afghanistan fit these criteria. But there is no reason to doubt the bravery and devotion of those sent to fight those battles or the sacrifice of those who will not return to their loved ones.

Celebration of Memorial Day was sporadic in this country until after the two devastating world wars of the 20th century that took the lives of so many people from so many countries. The death tolls in recent wars have been much less than in those great conflicts. But each human life is precious, and each young person who makes the ultimate sacrifice deserves respect and honor, however wise or foolish the decisions of his or her superiors.