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On Memorial Day, remember to honor the defenders of our freedom

American flags are placed at graves at Arlington

American flags are placed at graves at Arlington National Cemetery on May 25, 2017 in Arlington, Va., in preparation for Memorial Day. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Brendan Smialowski

For decades, Memorial Day commemorations have been led by the veterans of World War II. Venerated for their service in one of America’s darkest hours, they evoke a time when our nation was nearly unanimous in its support of a war and of those who fought in it. But when you ask them about their experiences, many will talk about the comrades who did not make it home.

Now, our World War II veterans are dwindling. Most are in their 90s. Nearly 400 die each day. Of the 16 million Americans who served in that war, only 620,000 are still alive. As they leave us, it’s important that we don’t let their tales of sacrifice die with them.

Soon, the nation’s focus will be trained more on those who fought and lost their lives in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. Americans might not have been as universally supportive of those conflicts, but those who saw combat and those who died deserve the same respect and appreciation.

The nature and smaller size of today’s military also makes it easier for some people to detach themselves from the carnage and horrors of war. It shouldn’t. In World War II, some 61 percent of U.S. military personnel were drafted. Today, all are volunteers. Their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way, whatever the circumstances and wherever the battle, should be a source of inspiration. And not knowing anyone who died in action doesn’t mean any of us shouldn’t mourn and honor those who gave their lives.

Nearly 7,000 U.S. servicemen and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conflict continues to take an awful toll long after some combatants come home; more than 20 American veterans commit suicide each day. And our postwar veterans care still falls short of the mark. Even the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which generally does a good job, needs $279 million in infrastructure improvements.

On this Memorial Day, let’s rededicate ourselves to improving life for those who survived war’s hell, and to honoring all of those who lost their lives to it.