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Since the opening shot of the Revolutionary War was fired, more than 650,000 Americans have lost their lives on fields of battle in this country and around the world. Another 525,000 in the military services died from other causes during times of war.

It is to those nearly 1.2 million, and to others who have died in the service of their country, that Memorial Day is dedicated.Only a few weeks ago, 47 sailors on the USS Iowa lost their lives when a gun turret blew up. Several others were killed later in fires aboard two Navy ships. They, no less than those on the battlefields, died defending the United States of America.

There was another recent reminder in a German courtroom of the sacrifices of American servicemen and women. After a long trial, a Lebanese terrorist was sentenced to life imprisonment for participating in the hijacking of an American airliner and for shooting to death a U.S. sailor, Robert Stethem, who was flying home after an assignment in Europe. He was singled out for assassination because he was a military man.

Nor should other American victims of terrorism be forgotten. Special prayers should be offered for the safe return of those who were kidnapped in the Middle East simply because they were Americans and who have been held hostage for so long by terrorist groups.

Sadly, Memorial Day has come to be seen by many as simply another holiday, a time when swimming pools open, summer resorts get into full swing, and shopping malls offer sales to lure customers. Too many citizens will drink too much, and hundreds of them will be slaughtered on the highways.

Let us hope that at least once during the three-day weekend, everyone in the United States will pause to remember the real purpose of Memorial Day: to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve freedom for all Americans and for the nation's allies.