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Little Picture, Big Sacrifices

In any discussion of military history it is easy to become entranced by the “big picture”—the political and economic forces that drive conflict, the movement of armies and navies across vast distances, the titanic and often cataclysmic struggles between nations or groups of nations. And understandably so, for wars—whether global, national, regional or local in scope—shape history over decades, centuries, even millennia.

But by focusing on the “God’s eye view” of war, it is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that those most directly affected by it are the men and women nations ask—or compel—to pursue it. Those who serve put themselves in harm’s way so the majority of their fellow citizens do not have to, and all who take up arms come to realize that, more so than in any other line of work, death is an occupational hazard.

The United States has historically sought to acknowledge and venerate those who die in service to the nation by promising to honor and remember their sacrifice. The first step toward fulfilling that promise is to ensure recovery and identification of the remains of each and every American service member killed in any of the nation’s conflicts, no matter the time commitment or cost. The second step is to inter the remains with respect and dignity, either where they fell or here at home, and to maintain the grave site in perpetuity. The final and perhaps most important step is to educate the American people about the conflicts in which the nation’s service members died, so their sacrifice will not be forgotten and so, to quote General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing—commander of the World War I American Expeditionary Forces and founding chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission—“Time will not dim the glory of their deeds.” MH