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Opinion

Editorial: Brave warriors, past and present

Gravestones are decorated with flags on Saturday at

Gravestones are decorated with flags on Saturday at Long Island National Cemetery at Pinelawn (May 28, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

Memory is the first duty we owe to those who died fighting the nation's wars. In the seven national cemeteries in New York State -- and in so many burial grounds across the nation -- that memory summons forth legions of relatives and friends, often with tears in their eyes, bearing flowers and flags, to honor a long-ago sacrifice. That pilgrimage of remembrance occurs all year, but especially on Memorial Day. And it is a worthy tradition.

Every Memorial Day also brings a flood of cartoons and jokes lamenting the absence of memory. They poke fun at the crass conversion of a day meant for solemn observance into one that for many is little more than the start of the summer season of outdoor grilling and days at the beach -- oh, and the door-busting sales at the malls.

Beyond memory itself and vigilance against forgetfulness, there's something else we owe to the fallen who rest beneath the vast, perfectly aligned, totally uniform and far too numerous stone markers in our national cemeteries. We owe them constant attention to their younger brothers and sisters in arms, today's veterans.

They are not dying in the same staggering numbers as the veterans of earlier wars. But they're coming back with horrific, life-altering wounds of the body and of the mind. Too many are falling into addiction, joblessness, homelessness, despair and suicide. As we rightly turn our thoughts back to those who died, we should also focus our energy on those still walking among us. Remember the sacrifices of the dead, but work to heal the living veterans, too.

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