By Maj. Gen. Darren W. McDew
Air Force District of Washington Commander
In the National Capital Region, you do not have to look far to find monuments honoring our heroic Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have paid the ultimate price in defense of our great Nation.
This weekend, Americans will visit the memorials and cemeteries in Washington D.C. and throughout the U.S., as well as in Europe and the Pacific, to honor the hundreds of thousand fallen service members who have given their lives for our country and our freedom.
Many will remember grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles who served in World War I and World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War. Many more will pay tribute to husbands, wives, sons and daughters who recently lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Think about that … memorials and military cemeteries spread across this nation and throughout the world. The VA’s National Cemetery Administration maintains approximately 3.1 million gravesites at 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and U.S. territories, as well as in 33 “soldiers’ lots” and monument sites. The American Battle Monuments Commission manages 24 overseas military cemeteries, and 25 memorials, monuments and markers to honor those who served in World War I or World War II. The overseas locations memorialize more than 218,000 Americans with nearly 125,000 gravesites, and commemorate an additional 94,000 on “Tablets of the Missing.”
In Arlington National Cemetery, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment Soldiers (The Old Guard), U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial and Guard Company Marines, U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guardsmen, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard members and U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard members will place more than 250,000 grave decorating flags. The flags will remain through Memorial Day.
The numbers are staggering, but they do not account for thousands more buried in state veterans’ cemeteries throughout the country.
The numbers also tell a story. These heroes hailed from every town and city in America. They came from every walk of life – young men and women straight out of high school and college to farmers, policemen, teachers, doctors, lawyers – you name it. Their ethnic backgrounds are equally as diverse. But they all had one thing in common – they served our nation during times of peace and war. They served as shields for America to keep war from reaching our front door. Unfortunately, too many lost their lives in foreign lands never to see their families again.
Today, we are faced with the grim reality that the number of fatalities since we began operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is up to more than 6,400. Every one of those losses is a loss to our nation, a loss to our military, and, most importantly, a loss to the families who grieve.
On this Memorial Day, at 3 p.m., wherever you are, I encourage you to pause and participate in the National Moment of Remembrance established by Congress. This is a moment of reflection and an opportunity to demonstrate our gratitude for our fallen warriors.
On Memorial Day and every day, let’s continue to make sure our heroes are never forgotten.
I thank you for your service and wish you a safe holiday weekend.