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A concrete example of why we remember our veterans

A Vietnam veteran from Aloha recently contacted my office and asked if we could help him get medals to honor two soldiers killed in action many years ago. This Aloha veteran served alongside these two men; he survived the explosion that killed his friends. Decades after their death, he is working to preserve their memory and honor their sacrifice by presenting their families with recognition of their service. His actions are a powerful reminder of why we observe Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the costs of war and to honor the men and women who died for our country.

For the Aloha veteran and the families of fallen service members from around the United States, the effects of war will reverberate throughout their lives. But for many Americans, the casualty of war is more distant. Americans hear statistics about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but often they are far removed from seeing or feeling the loss. This is in part because a shrinking proportion of Americans fight in our wars.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2001 military participation was 0.5 percent, just as our country began prolonged conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the 10-year period since Sept. 11, approximately 4 million men and women served as active duty military at some point. That’s less than half the number who served during the nine years of the Vietnam War, and a quarter of those who served in World War II. Having fewer people involved in combat has resulted in a nation that experiences war differently than it did decades ago. The entire country is no longer collectively invested in the conflict. Instead, a small proportion of families bear the burden of war. They experience the extended tours of duty and too often the injuries or the loss of loved ones. But the majority of Americans have little connection with conflicts taking place thousands of miles away.

I am grateful for this Aloha veteran and his work to bring the memory of his friends into the present. His effort reminds us of the sacrifice so many have made, but it also acts as a stark reminder of what we must consider before entering into armed conflict. As a shrinking percentage of Americans serve our country, it is the responsibility of all of us to consider the burden that is placed on their shoulders and their families.

It is our responsibility to remember the fallen on Memorial Day, but also to remember the sacrifice and the painful reality whenever we debate the merits of war. This Aloha veteran will not forget the two service members killed in an explosion, and we should not either.

Sending men and women into conflict should be a difficult decision, and it is crucial that we remember the reality - that many men and women do not return from battle. Their loss is felt by friends and families and by the country. Each time we consider putting troops on the ground, we must remember the lost soldiers whose lives and potential were cut short. We honor them and we miss them.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D) represents Oregon’s 1st Congressional District in the United States Congress. The 1st District includes the communities of Forest Grove, Cornelius, Banks, North Plains and Hillsboro.

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