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A Memorial Day at war

American troops have fought for nine years in Afghanistan and more than seven in Iraq, but many Americans hardly notice that their country is at war. That’s worth remembering this Memorial Day.

It is common to lament that federal holidays, from Martin Luther King’s birthday to Veterans’ Day, are now more about long weekends and department-store sales than anything else.  The failure to commemorate the war dead, however, has a particularly corrosive effect on the country, for once we forget the price of combat, it becomes all too easy to allow others — and other people’s children — to pay it.

In this essay, Jon Meacham reflects on why war feels distant to so many Americans — and why the burden of military sacrifice weighs heavily on so few.

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  • ed devinney

    i wish to remember my cousin Louis Magin, a pilot who flew c46′s in the CBI campaign of WWII.
    his plane went bown in the jungles of Burma only moments from landing at his destination. he was able to get out a mayday, but his plane or crew were never found. may their souls rest in peace.

  • Jenny Gardner

    Your program for Memorial Day was everything I expected and more. Our Veterans and those that have sacrificed their lives deserve this and much more. My brother served in Vietnam and I am proud of his service. He was career for 26 years. He came out of the service 100% disabled with serious heart problems. He now is fighting cancer and the Doctors have said it has been caused by Agent Orange. This is hard to swallow. I know many out there are suffering from illnesses caused by Agent Orange, but many don’t realize the consequences of that exposure. My prayer is for ALL veterans and selfishly for the Vietnam Vets that are still suffering. GOD BLESS AMERICA!

  • Tim Bogan

    I wish to remember a friend Sgt Phillip Bocks USMC KIA Afghanistain and Sgt Conrad Sipple KIA Vietnam USMC

  • Mike White

    I offer a rememberance of my friend Kenton George Sisler of Dexter, Missouri. He was the living embodiment of courage, adventure and joy. Rest easy Soldier!

  • Dottie Teachman

    The Memorial Day tribute to our fallen loved ones and the brave survivors was very moving. Many that went to war were just kids. This bothered my husband so much . My husband CWO Jimmie Dee Cook was killed March 5, 1969 in Vietnam. It was his second tour. He was a radar operator and was killed by a mortar coming in their location. He was a career soldier and had been in 13 years. He was 31 years old. My three children were very young and missed knowing a great Dad. God bless all the men, women and families that sacrifice everything for all of us.

  • Patty McDermott

    The Memorial Day Program was just a wonderful show. Thank you for sharing the stories of both the veterans of past war and the widows and families of those who gave the ulitmate sacrafice. I hope that as a Nation we all come together during this Holiday and truly remember all who have, and do sacrafice for this country. No one likes war but we HAVE to support all that protect us. God Bless America.

  • Bill Maxian

    I wish to remember my high school friend Mike Decker, KIA Vietnam. Thanks Mike. RIP my friend.

  • JD Bartel

    Four of us grew up within a block of each other, going to grade school and high school. When two got their draft notices, all of us decided to enlist. We went through basic, advanced training and airborne. We finished our training and went to The Republic of South Viet Nam. George was the first to be killed less then a month into country. Then Dallas was killed ten months later in Pleiko. Dennis and I decided to extened for another tour then. Three days before we were to go on leave back to the world we were in Bao Loc when our camp was hit by the VC. Dennis was killed that night. My CO had me escort his body back to our home town. It was the hardest ordeal I ever have had to do. I went back to Nam and somehow made it through the second tour. One thing stays with me yet today. Why did I come back and they did not? They were friends of my youth. They are still with me today.

  • Velma Cross

    I would like to remember my late husband, Gerald Pratt, who served in WWII. We don’t have a lot of these guys left now and the program today sure brings back memories. Thank you for the great Concert and Program.

  • Marsha Sullivan

    I want to thank you for one of the most moving and well done memorial tributes I have ever seen. We have so many military and their families to thank for their sacrifices to keep us safe at home. We can never repay all those who have served and the families who have suffered the ultimate sacrifices. The least we can do is to remember them with tributes such as this. Gary Senise does so much to support our troops and it was obvious how much he cares.

  • Juanita Bellew Jones

    My uncle John F. Wise died at the age of 28 years over Germany September 27, 1944. He was a member of the 445th Bomber Group of the 8th Air Force. That day the 445th Bomber group suffered it’s greatest single day loss of bombers and young men. In a matter of 6 minutes 25 bombers went down. The planes had accidently left the bomber stream heading for Kassel,Germany. They also lost their fighter protection and were attacked by over 100 German fighter planes. As I watched the program Washington Memorial Day program tonight and heard the stirring music and words, I thought about my uncle John. May we never forget the price that military men and women have paid for our freedom.I salute their willingness,bravery and courage. My sympathy to all their families.

  • MSgt Jim Stovall, USAF/Retired

    Just watched the National Memorial Celebration Concert from the White House, Washington DC. Heard several moving tributes to our nations fallen heros who “gave it all” in all wars involving American Servicemen and Women. The Chief of Staff acknowledged these sacrifices. Noticable absent was our civilain leaders including the Commander in Chief, President Barack H. Obama. Kinda gave me a sense of forboding. Apparently this celebration was not important enough to grace the appearance of our President. Why?

  • annetteheath

    My neighbors’ husband died in Vietnam. His name is Sgt. Messick. I watched his children grow up and often wondered what he would think of his family, a wife that never forgot him until she joined him some 20 years later. I remember my father who served in Europe during World War 2 and my own husband who served in the 82nd Airbourne during the Vietnam War. I was bessed that my husband stayed with me. I greave for those who never returned home. We lost friends there. I pray for all of our Troops now and hope for their return. GOD bless America.

  • Sylvia and Marc Maffucci

    As I watch the PBS special on this Memorial Day, I also watch my husband crying for the loss of one of his best friends, Robb Needham. Robb was a devoted father, loving husband, great friend, and wonderful godfather to our children. Robb was killed by sniper fire in Iraq. He was a kind of loving man. While serving in Iraq, he made friends with the children and frequently gave them gifts. He took his job seriously and was compelled to answer the call from the army. He was not the only casualty of war for the Needham family. Dylan, Robb’s son, so distraught from his father’s death, took his own life several years later. I am so glad that Cait, Robb’s wife was able to go to DC for this memorial. I love you Cait. I love you Robb and Dylan. Thank you for heeding the call. Cait, Robb and Dylan are with Jesus… and we will see them soon. xxoo

  • Norma Stinson

    My father was killed in Korea when I was 3 years old. He left for Korea when I was a year and a half. I have no memory of him at all. It was very difficult when I was in school and other children had their fathers and couldn’t understand how hard it was for me, nor did they understand how I don’t have any memory. Just the other day I was talking to a teacher at the school i worked at and he himself couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have lived my whole life not having any memory of my father. I have been contacted by people in the service stating that they need some DNA so that my fathers bones can be identified. I am unable to do this as they said the DNA they need can only come from a male who is related to my father. Since I only have a sister and no brothers we aren’t able to do this., My father was born and raised in Germany and came to the United States during World War II and was enlisted in the army and returned to Germany to fight against them, we have know knowledge of what relatives might be alive to ge their DNA. I am so grateful for any one who has ever served in the military to protect our country. I am tired of people who continually ridicule our loved ones in the armed forces because they don’t really iknow what they have.

    Thank you for reading my comment. May God Bless You All and may our country continue to represent the freedom that we truly have.

    Norma Stinson

  • Suzie Barnefiher

    My dearly beloved Brian did not die in Vietnam, he died as a result of Vietnam. He served in the U.S. Army in the 1960′s in the Vietnam War, he came home a changed person. The pain he suffered was unmeasurable, and he suffered to his death at 38 years old. I have never stopped loving him to this day and only hope I will be with him again someday. Brian was the kind of guy, if you asked he was there to give. God bless him, I love you Brian. Your Suzie

  • Pam Tillman

    My cousin died in Viet Nam at the very young age of 19 years old. When he was shipped out he knew where he was going and still he went. He was a very kind and gentle person who was willing to do what he could for our country. He never even got to the ground as he was shot as he was coming out of the helicopter and we never even got to touch him again as he was in glass when he came home. His name is on the Viet Nam wall Allan J. Nelson. I will never forget his sacrifice for all of us , thank you my dear cousin we will meet again.

  • Abby Vincent

    I am blessed to have never had the experience of either going to war or seeing a loved one go off to war. I want to thank those who have served our country in so many ways so we can all enjoy, as they say, the blessings of liberty.

    When I learned about Memorial Day, I learned that it was an attempt at reconciliation. The only way we could heal from the Civil War was to honor those who died in both sides of the conflict. Japanese, Germans and Italians died in World War II, Koreans died in that conflict, and Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians also died. Today Iraqis and civilians in Afghanistan are dying. It is my hope that the whole world will heal together and move toward a meaningful peace that goes beyond nationalism.

    God bless all of the countries on earth, and may he guide us all toward a peaceful tomorrow

  • Sharon Dazey

    Just watched the National Memorial Celebration Concert from Washington DC.
    Several wonderful triubutes, noticably missing was a tribute to those who served in Vietnam.
    What a slap in their faces. Have they been forgotten? Tributes to the fallen men & women over the past 100 years was done less the Vietnam War.Why?

  • Diana Davis

    We just finished watching this years Memorial Day program. It was superb! Not only were the tributes to our service personal in numerous wars recognized, but either the service people or loved ones were thanked & recognized for what they did for all of us! The program was very sensitive with appropriate music as well.


  • Carolyn Ladd

    My Great Uncle Captain Thomas Montag gave the ultimate sacrifice in WWII on August 14, 1944 while strafing a German column. He was a pilot in the Army Air Corp and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He is buried in the American Cemetary in Brittany, France.

    Freedom is not free.

  • Robert Schaudt

    The pain of losing a loved one is universal. I grew up knowing my father only from pictures and the love my mother expressed when she spoke of the man I never met.
    I feel for every child, every woman, every friend and it will never go away even though, the sixty five years ago when it happened, those men, those fathers of my friends today and mine, where of opposing sides.
    I grieve, I feel, I am a son lost never understanding what there was to lose the most important person in my life. Yet, I am grateful that it happened because without the death of my father this world would be dark and without hope for the future.
    There is no pain greater than losing the love of those who are supposed to love you and they cannot because they were taken away, no matter what creed you are.

  • Laura Reardon

    I so agree with Sharon statement above. I am an advocate of our Armed Forces, my father served in Korea and World War II. A decorated Air Force Major who died in 1970. However, I kept waiting for the recognition for our Viet Nam Vets. Those who were not welcomed home…those who were spit upon when returning…….and for all of those who did not come home, including my cousin who’s remains were never found. I don’t understand, am I missing something here? WE drafted them. And many enlisted. WHY was there not a clip of this war that took so very many lives and torments so many even today?? To them, I say “Welcome home” and thank you. And to the other Vetrans as well, our very lives have always depended on all of you.

  • Dianna

    God bless our Vietnam Vets!! I remember being 10, 11, 12 and the war continued, this was back in the 60′s and the TV only showed the horror of what our brothers, sons and fathers were going through. Every day I prayed that all our brave men would come home. I wondered how long wars lasted…It seemed a never ending war. I thank you for your service! after I got a little older, when I saw that there was going to be an end to this… I was 20… but for you, this war would not end but would go on for you in memories. I honor those memories and the battles you went through. I remember the numbers that didn’t make it home and being thankful that you did. Just so you know that my job as a little girl… staying awake at night and praying for your safety. and I pray for you now, cause I know. Know that I hold you up in prayer and that you are blessed. lol “Smile, God loves you.” Dianna
    God bless our Vietnam Vets!! Abundantly!!

  • Richard Foster Eltzholtz Smith

    May this serve as a memorial to my uncle, Army Captain James Everett Pepper (1908-1943). I was just nine when he was killed but I remember his so well.

    My uncle Pep died when he was only 34 years old which seems so young to die. Yet most were 10-15 years younger. Such an awful waste of life.

    He was a handsome confident man, an engineer with U.S.Army. Stationed at Ft. Peck, Glasgow, Montana and elsewhere. He smoked Camel cigarettes – so when I began smoking, so did I. He was killed in the same plane crash in Portugal that injured singer/actress Jane Froman. Sadie Gilbert and James (Uncle Jimmy) Pepper of Wilsall, Montana were his parents. His only sibling was one sister, Verna who was a missionary to China, who left there just before WWII, married about 1952 to Milton Pulis in Livingston, Montana. Pep married Edith Eltzholtz and had four daughters – Roberta, Patricia, Karen and Jo Ann. Roberta died last year; the others are still with us.

  • Dianna Isom

    Thank you for a moving and inspiring Memorial Day Concert.The tribute to all who have served and are serving, to all who gave their lives, and the oh so many who are living with devastating physical and emotional injuries and illnesses..and yes to the families, wives, husbands, and children. God Bless You All…I am inspired by and proud of the American people and spirit. At the same time I am saddened to tears for all that we have been through,as a people, and are going through now….I send my prayers of love, comfort and strength to each and every one of you. May the Light of Peace Shine….

  • Gwen Hall Davos

    My brother, Capt. Harley H. Hall, was the last Navy pilot shot down in Vietnam just hours before the cease fire was signed. He was alive on the ground, but, never returned home. Our POW/MIA’s have also paid the price for our freedom. WE MUST NEVER FORGET! Thank you to all the veterans who have also sacrificed so much.

  • Jason M. V

    My Dad served in the Vietnam War and told us many fond memories during his time at war. He served in the submarines. I am proud of his commitment to our country as I am with everyone who has served, going to serve, and even people like me who tried to serve (Coast Guard). We need to thank the men and women we see on the streets, in shopping centers, and even inour churches for their service. They are all brave individuals for giving up their life, their happiness with their families, and even their births of their own children and many other things they are missing by protecting us and other families from other countries who do not have the great protection that we all have been blessed with. God Bless our troops, our families, and ourselves. Thank you troops. You will always be in my prayers. God Speed. ~ Jason (Charleston, S.C.)

  • Allen R. Glick

    I just watched your Memorial Day program which was excellent. I am a Vietnam War veteran and want to know why there was no acknowledgement of the Vietnam War. Every War was mentioned and a short film depicting the various Wars was shown except Vietnam. I respectfully, feel this was a slight to all Vietnam War Veterans.


    Allen R. Glick

  • Marion Bauman

    Zachary T. Myers, Delaware County Ohio, fallen in Iraq September 2009.

  • Bob Rodriguez

    I was so inspired and cried by such a moving Memorial Day Celebration honoring our fallen soldiers. I’m a Vietnam Veteran who was drafted at 21 and responded to my call of duty to serve my country with dignity and honor. I to was anticipating mention and/or representation of our Vietnam Veteran’s? I was disappointed when there was no mention of the 58,000 soldiers who gave their lives in a foreign country. Maybe I missed it? I am proud to have served my country and my heart goes out to the families and friends of the band of brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives to keep this country free. Another observation was our Commander in Chief, President Barack H. Obama was not present at such a very moving Memorial Day Celebration; Why? You can never understand the heart of a soldier (band of brothers/sisters) who have put their lives in harms way unless you served in the military.

  • Bob Rodriguez

    I was so inspired and cried by such a moving Memorial Day Celebration honoring our fallen soldiers. I’m a Vietnam Veteran who was drafted at 21 and responded to my call of duty to serve my country with dignity and honor. I to was anticipating mention and/or representation of our Vietnam Veteran’s? I was disappointed when there was no mention of the 58,000 soldiers who gave their lives in a foreign country. Maybe I missed it? I am proud to have served my country and my heart goes out to the families and friends of the band of brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives to keep this country free. Another observation was our Commander in Chief, President Barack H. Obama was not present at such a very moving Memorial Day Celebration; Why? You can never understand the heart of a soldier (band of brothers/sisters) who have put their lives in harms way unless one has served in the military.

    From the mountains, to the prairies,
    To the oceans white with foam,
    God bless America,
    My home, sweet home.

    God bless America,
    My home, sweet home

  • Bruce Larson

    The Memorial Day Concert last evening was an excellent, moving event. However, I was very disappointed that there wasn’t a segment dedicated to the Vietnam War and its’ veterans.

  • Vic Salminen

    After watching the Memorial Day Concert I was very disappointed that no mention was made about the Vietnam War or the Vietnam Veteran. I want to know why. I am a Vietnam War era Army veteran and feel that the omission of acknowledgement to my brothers and sisters who served and died, was yet another slap in the face, and a disgrace to them.

  • Becky Dale

    The National Memorial Day Concert on May 30 was a wonderful tribute to the men and women who died fighting for our freedom. My Dad was a medic in WWII and died at the age of 85 y/o last summer. He was always so proud to have served in the military. One of my cousins died in Iraq on August 3, 2005. His name was David “Bear” Stewart and was killed by a roadside IED. He was a fine, young man and is greatly missed by his family. He was so proud to serve as a Marine.

    As a teenager, I remember watching on TV the disgusting way Vietnam War soldiers were treated when returning to the States. What happened to the loving tribute to the soldiers that died in the Vietnam War? Thank you to all of our fallen soldiers, especially during the Vietnam War.

  • John Bell USMC/USA SSGT Retired

    Watched National Memorial Day Concert; Again an very obvious afront to Vietnam Veterans. All wars were covered, but Vietnam was skipped over. DSome show of support. That is still a joke. Shame on us in the unpopular war.

  • James Farrell ETC(SS) USN Retired

    My wife and I just finished watching the Memorial Day concert and I am sad and disappointed that once again people choose to ignore Vietnam and the damage done by this most unpopular war. I served my country for over twenty years. I started with Vietnam and ended with Desert Storm. In the sixties returning Vietnam vets were met with insults, abuse and hatred, now we just get quietly ignored. I do not know anyone who ever wanted to be in combat, it was just what we had to do to serve with honor and dignity. We were then and are now, patriots. I fly the flag in front of my home every day and get tearful when I hear them play taps. I love my country and I will continue to support and defend the constitution every day of my life. I wish to say thank you to all our veterans who were involved in any of the actions we have taken in the support of liberty in this world. I offer my prayers and love to all, and to the forgotten and ignored warriors I say “Welcome Home”

  • geraldine glisson

    The Memorial Concert was so touching and beautiful. My thoughts were with my brother,
    Leo Thomas Colburn, who was killed in WW II. Thanks so much for the remembrance.

  • Karen

    My husband served as a fighter pilot in Viet Nam, he came home (for which I am so very grateful). However many of the men Bob served with did not come back, their names are etched in a wall. Some came back after years in prison camps, never to be the same. The rest came home to a country that showed little compassion or caring, in fact blamed the service member for a war they were not responsible for starting. I feel we need to support ALL our service men and women, while they are serving and after they serve when the physical, emotional and mental wounds try to heal. I was VERY disapponited that there was no tribute to the men and women who served in Viet Nam. Gen. Powell spoke of Korea as the “forgotton war”, however Viet Nam is the war our country chooses to forget. The lack of meaningful mention of the Viet Nam war was painfully noticable! The sacrifices made there were and are real!! Please remember ALL who served. We MUST never forget the sacrifices made by the few for the many. May God bless all our service members whereever they serve!

  • Laurie

    The Memeorial Day program was well done, but it seems to me there was one rather glaring omission. One war that only got a brief mention by Ms. Danner, but no honors for it’s veterens and those who died.
    I realize that the Viet Nam war was unpopular, but I strongly feel that the soldiers who fought and perished during the many years of conflict, deserved some recognition. I can imagine that many of that war’s veterens felt the sting of being ignored once again.

  • Pete

    When you see a 1 1/2 hour production on Memorial Day, and it does not contain any direct mention of the Viet Nam War or the Viet Nam Veteran (but does have segments on WW1, WW11, Korea., and Iraq) then it is not an oversight, but was a planned omission by the production and/or the decision makers at PBS. This is what many Viet Nam Veterans refer to as “Lip Service Only Support” in regard to the Viet Nam Veteran. 45 years after the end of this conflict the Nation (as a whole) and the public (in general) does not appreciate the fact that Viet Nam Veterans are no different then other Veterans – over 58,000 families of those killed during this war will attest to the fact that their loss is, and will always be, eternal.

  • Diane

    I also noticed an omission of the Vietnam War. That was my generation and many boys I graduated with in 1966 were drafted. Why was this not mentioned? I saw Vietnam Veterans in the audience – how sad they did not get recognized!! Shame on PBS!

  • Bill Field

    The Memorial Day Concert was moving and uplifting in so many ways. It is time that Memorial Day be seen as more than a three day weekend. There needs to be more “memorial” in the Memorial Day brand!

  • Zntsamba

    HI Jenny i’m Zoleka Ntsamba and you said on facebook you are looking for Pumzile Ntsamba regarding with pension fund which is my father may you please give me your details so that He can contact you

  • Laura Cummings Cotner

    There was another year that PBS Memorial Concert didn’t recognize the Vietnam Veterans,they serverd their country under the direction of the President as in all other wars,these men never got a thank you until just recently 40 years later. It was a great Memorial Day Service,but you could use the footage from the jungles of Vietnam and tell how many died.

    Thank you, from a soldiers wife Laura Cummings Cotner