On Memorial Day, we honor and remember the ultimate sacrifice of military women and men who perished in too many wars to serve and protect us.
This 2021 Memorial Day we may be distracted from remembrance, as we are emerging joyfully from a global pandemic that has taken so many other lives.
Americans rightfully want to flock to the beaches, embrace the barbecues and gather at long-delayed family reunions. The sacrifice of war may seem distant.
That is why, now more than ever, we should pause and remember.
Remember that time ago, 20 years ago, when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 launched America’s War on Terror?
Last week, Pentagon officials indicated plans to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by early to mid-July, ahead of President Biden’s Sept. 11 deadline. That is boosting hopes for an end to America’s longest, failed war.
But it is also an urgent reason to remember those who won’t be joining our holiday festivities. Those who can’t celebrate our liberation by vaccine. Those long ago killed, as they fought to liberate others.
So far more than 7,000 members of the U.S. military have been killed in America’s post-9/11 wars. Another 52,000 were injured, according to The Costs of War, a research project by Brown University. Researchers tallied the casualties in the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and other locations for the report, released in May.
Another 335,000 civilians were killed in these post-9/11 conflicts. They left behind at least 21 million Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani and Syrian war refugees.
This Memorial Day, we should remember that wars rage on. Such as the explosive fighting between Israel and Hamas over 11 days in May. At least 232 people were killed by Israel’s military campaign, including 65 children. Another 1,900 were wounded, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
And remember, as well, all the other wars burning around the world, wars that will be with us when the COVID-19 pandemic is a memory.
As we lay the wreaths, recite our prayers and revere the sacrifice of the war dead, we should also remember the living.
Those left behind in the shambles of violence and bloodshed. The loved ones of the war dead, scarred by the trauma. The war injured, bearing the physical and psychic scars, disabilities and depression. Many will never heal.
Remember those who live stunted lives in battle-shredded places like the West Bank, Iraq and Afghanistan, where peace is ever elusive.
For a decade after 9/11, I wrote regularly about my brother. Army Master Sgt. Andrew Washington. He has been dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight America’s war on terror.
Strangers still approach me and ask, “How is your brother?”
Thanks for remembering. Drew survived those precarious tours of duty. He retired from the Army in 2012, having proudly served 21 years, six months and 11 days.
This Memorial Day, my mother can rest from the sleepless nights. For years she would lie awake and imagine a day when she would open the door to a uniformed emissary with news from which she could never recover.
Let’s remember the mothers, spouses and siblings for whom that knock on the door will someday come.
Please remember the dead and the living of Chicago’s South and West sides, where lives are extinguished and mangled by inexorable street violence. And those who succumb to the mass shootings that have become an American regimen.
This Memorial Day, remember all the wars, and all those who have inherited the sacrifice and pain of the dead, as the wars go on.
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