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July 4: A day for grief and gratitude

As Oregonians prepare to observe the nation's 230th birthday, they also mourn the loss this month of two more Oregonians serving in the military in Iraq.

Celebration and grief, in this case, have some commonalities. They relate directly to the ideals upon which this country was founded - and to the honor of those who serve and fight in defense of those ideals.

At the time the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, the Revolutionary War had been under way for more than a year. The adoption of the Declaration of Independence on that date provided clarity and direction to the struggle.

Today, Americans and Oregonians are sharply divided over whether the Iraq war has a clear purpose, and whether the mounting human price is justified. Those same citizens, however, are united on one point: With rare and lamentable exception, the men and women serving in Iraq - and Afghanistan, we should add - embody this country's values. They are fulfilling their duties to their nation, and they deserve our gratitude.

Many commentators have noted that the Iraq war in particular has seemed unreal to the American public because so few people have been required to sacrifice for its cause. But we would point out that the makeup of citizen-soldiers serving in the armed forces today means this conflict has deeply affected many families and communities. Don't all of us know someone who has been called up from the Reserves or the National Guard? How many spouses, children and parents are waiting and hoping for their loved ones to return unharmed from a year's duty in Iraq or Afghanistan?

These sacrifices - big and small - are readily apparent. For some families, the suffering is without end. That's the case for relatives of 22-year-old Army Cpl. Robert Jones of Milwaukie, who died in Iraq on June 17. The same is true for the family of 25-year-old Army Pfc. Thomas Tucker of Madras, who was kidnapped, then found dead on June 19.

Each of the 60 people with ties to Oregon who have been lost in Iraq was special. They served their country because they shared its belief in freedom and equality. No matter what we as citizens think about this war, we all can agree that Oregonians serving in Iraq exemplify many of the same values so eloquently expressed at the moment of our nation's birth.