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When Gen. John A. Logan of Illinois advanced the idea of a Memorial Day to honor war dead, he could never have known how many more wars there would be and how many more men and women would die in service to their country.

Here we are, 143 years after that first Memorial Day, with the United States engaged in war again and Americans dying in the far off lands of Afghanistan and Iraq. How many more Memorial Days will we commemorate before U.S. troops are not dying in combat?

Since we last marked Memorial Day, at least 19 servicemen from Illinois have died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

They include Army Sgt. Jesse R. Tilton of Mount Zion, a medic who died of wounds suffered while caring for another soldier; Marine Lance Cpl. Robert J. Newton, 23, of Creve Coeur, who died in combat operations in Afghanistan; and Army Sgt. Mark A. Simpson, 40, of Peoria, who died after his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device.

The day has grown into a time to honor not only those who died in war but all veterans who have served and passed on.

For that reason, we take particular notice that Frank Buckles, a former Army corporal, died this year. The 110-year-old, who lied about his age to enlist, was the last known American veteran to have served overseas during World War I.

As we remember Cpl. Buckles today and salute those of his generation who served in the military, we are mindful of the fact that our World War II veterans are dying at a rate of about 1,000 each day.

Those who survived their wartime service still deserve our thanks for their sacrifices.

The phrase “Freedom isn’t free” may seem trite, but it’s true. And, a small percentage of Americans pay the price.

Those of us who enjoy freedom as the result of their sacrifices owe them a debt that can never fully be paid.

One way we can acknowledge that debt is to keep them in our thoughts today, fly the flag and attend one of the ceremonies.

These special ceremonies include the Bloomington parade that steps off at 9 a.m. from Front and Madison streets en route to Miller Park, via Front, Lee and Wood streets. The Amvets state commander will give a keynote address at the park bandstand, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Korean-Vietnam Memorial. 

There will also be services at noon at Bloomington’s Evergreen Cemetery.

Honor our deceased veterans today.

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