(Washington, D.C.) -- All across our great nation, we will gather over Memorial Day weekend to honor the memories of our fallen, those who have made the supreme sacrifice doing our nation’s bidding. We will reach out to their families with our enduring gratitude for their continuing sacrifice. At cemeteries, and at our memorials, we will remember how much has been given in the name of freedom. And at 3 p.m. on Monday, we will all pause and silently reflect on the true meaning of Memorial Day.
More than 656,000 American fighting men and women have perished since the Revolutionary War as a result of combat. More than 530,000 troops have died in “non-theater” deaths. In Vietnam, the longest war in our history, more than 58,000 of our brothers and sisters were lost to the war. We continue to lose young (and not so young) warriors every week in the current wars--And we continue to lose veterans from the insidious, long-term effects of exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic substances during their time in uniform – and from “invisible” mental demons that are part of the lingering legacy of war.
We must never allow our nation to forsake its pledge to care for the widows, widowers, and orphans of those who have fallen, while on active duty or afterwards, and we will continue to reach out to those who have served and their families, who are unaware of the benefits to which they are entitled as a result of their service. Through the work of the Veterans Health Council (www.veteranshealth.org), we will ensure those who have served our nation are aware of the range of health conditions that derive from military service.
While in Orland Park, Illinois, on Monday, I will view the Agent Orange Quilt of Tears, and visit with Henry and Sheila Snyder, who have made it their lives’ work to travel the country, reaching out to veterans and their families, and educating about the lingering effects of a toxic battlefield. The quilt continues to grow, each square a memorial to the life of a veteran, whose premature death was caused by Agent Orange.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and at Arlington National Cemetery, we will honor those men and women who have given their lives or remain missing, and remember the courage, sacrifice and devotion to duty and country of all who answered the call to serve during the longest war in U.S. history. We will lay a wreath at the In Memory Plaque, dedicated to those veterans whose postwar deaths are attributed to their Vietnam War service. As the plaque so eloquently reads, “Their names are not inscribed here, but their spirits are ever present.”