It sometimes is suggested the description "hero" is used too freely and often inappropriately. Certainly, to give true heroes their due, that may be open to debate.
But not today. This is Memorial Day. Those we honor today were heroes. They paid the most dear price imaginable to earn the appellation.
We Americans hold all who have served us in uniform in the highest regard. For nearly a century and a half, Memorial Day has been set aside for us to express gratitude to those who perished while in the armed forces.
We honor the Continental Army patriot who remained vigilant at his Valley Forge post until he froze to death.
We honor the brave Civil War sailor who died below decks when a pumpkin-sized solid shot crashed into his ship.
We honor the airman whose flimsy wood and canvas plane plunged flaming into a field in France during World War I.
We honor the Coast Guardsman who perished when a torpedo slammed into his ship during World War II.
We honor the Marine who perished in the bitter cold of the breakout from Chosun Reservoir during the Korean War.
And we honor more than 1.2 million of their Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard comrades who have laid their lives on the altar of freedom for more than two centuries.
Heroes are not found only in the pages of old history books. More than 58,000 of them gave their lives in a war still fresh in the memories of tens of millions of Americans - though too many recognize the name only from tags on the fashionable clothing they buy: Vietnam. Still today the heroes come forth - and fall. Twenty-four have given their lives just this year in Iraq, in a war that allegedly ended last fall.
More make the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, often never seeing their foes. Within the past five days, three soldiers who grew up and hailed from areas within an hour's drive of Salem died. They included Spc. Adam S. Hamilton, 22, of Kent; 1st Lt. John M. Runkle, 27, of West Salem; and, Staff Sgt. Edward D. Mills Jr., 29, of New Castle. They were all killed by improvised explosive devices. Think of how devastating today - and each and every Memorial Day to follow - will be for their families and friends?
The three aforementioned are true heroes. Is using "heroes" as a word choice too much of a blanket term? Our feeling is no. We do so quite simply because they were men and women who knew when they put on the uniform of their country there was a chance they would not survive the service. Certainly, some performed courageous feats of arms while others may never have seen combat, dying instead of disease or the accidents that are all-too-common when proficiency must be achieved with the tools of death.
But all knew they were placing themselves in harm's way. All knew they were engaged in service most of their fellow Americans were able to avoid. That made them heroes.
We honor them for many reasons. It is vital their loved ones know the regard in which we hold them, of course. It is just as important for all their fellow Americans to recognize the cost of maintaining our freedom. This Memorial Day, then, we join the many others who will never forget in a heartfelt wish: God bless these American heroes. Past and present and, sadly, to come.