From time in memorial, civilizations have owed their way of life to those that fought to keep it. The primary purpose of government is protection; without the ability to protect, governments fall. First of all to protect from those outside that might attack, but as civilizations grew, to protect from those inside that would prey on the weaker. Civilizations need protection from those that aren't civil. That is their nature, and their curse. It is also their blessing. For never does a man stand so tall as when he bends down to help another.
Today we honor the United States fighting men and women that have fallen so that others could stand. For the early part of our history, we fought for our independence and defense. Hidden in the history books are the role of others, like the French, that fought along side us. In the Civil War, we fought each other. But in World War I, the war to end all wars, we set aside years of isolationism and fought for others. Not within our borders, but within theirs, to keep them free.
In World War II, we again came to the aid of others, and in doing so established ourselves as one of the world's super powers. A military that could mobilize anywhere there was need, and control the land, sea, and air. Past WW II, a new type of war, a Cold War, broke out between the west and the communist bloc. Words like 'mutually assured destruction' were spoken and the fear of a nuclear armageddon reigned.
The Korean War, was the first heated part of this cold war, when communist North Korea attacked South Korea. While a cease fire is in effect, the war has never formally ended. U.S. troops are still on hand to help keep the peace. Soldiers living far from family and friends. The older South Koreans still remember the sacrifice, the younger ones revel in the freedoms they enjoy.
In Vietnam, the cold war heated up again. Some would argue we shouldn't have been there. Others would argue differently. To me, it was a shameful period in U.S. history because those that bore the brunt of battle were not welcomed back freely into their own country. While some warriors chose to go, others were forced to go (in fact, there was a smaller percentage of draftees in Vietnam than in World War II). Either way, they did the best they could looking out for the guy on their left and their right, so they could all come home safely.
Many other fights; more American blood spilled on foreign shores, but now the survivors can come home to a country that seperates the warrior from the war. They seperate those that set policy from those that are sent to enforce it. As a country, we've come to realize that U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are people too. They have homes and families, friends and loved ones. They have aspirations for the future: dreams, hopes, and fears. Their blood is the same color as yours and mine. Their's is just more likely to get shed for others. Today, we honor that sacrifice.