It was 2011 when I visited Washington, D.C., with my family. One of the things we saw there was the World War II Memorial.

If you’ve ever been to the World War II Memorial, you’ve noticed pillars surrounding the memorial. Each pillar is inscribed with the name of the 48 U.S. states of 1945, along with the District of Columbia, the Alaska Territory and the Territory of Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was cold that day we visited the memorial, and I remember being bundled up in my coat, eager to get back to the warm car. My dad took his time, though. He walked around and looked at each of those pillars.

It didn’t mean much to me at the time. I wasn’t really interested in World War II history, but I still wanted to admire the architecture and reflect on the significance of the memorial. It’s funny how you don’t learn to appreciate something until you see it from another pair of eyes. My dad is a veteran and I enjoy listening to stories about his days in the Air Force. Even at work, I’m fascinated when a veteran comes into the office and shares a memory or two about their days in the armed forces.

We cannot imagine the struggles that so many men and women had to endure in those days. The total number of both civilian and military casualties in World War I is estimated to be around 37 million people, according to the website History on the Net. The war killed almost 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel. World War II is noted as the most costly war in terms of human life lost. For U.S. military casualties in World War II, the National World War II Museum estimates a total of 407,316  killed and 671,278 wounded.  

When the country was launched into World War II, things changed for everyone. Families were issued ration stamps that were used to buy their allotment of everything from meat, sugar, fat, butter, vegetables and fruit, and other necessities, according to history.com. While men (and women) were joining the armed forces and heading into training and into battle, women had to work as electricians, welders and riveters in defense plants to help build war-related materials.

Families were separated from their loved ones who were fighting overseas and many of them didn’t come back. Imagine how the parents must have felt, knowing their children were out there. Imagine how the women felt without their husbands around, with no way of knowing if they were among the dead or wounded. Many “war widows” had to take care of their children alone, and women employed outside the home left their children unsupervised. Even today, our armed service men and women find themselves away from their families because they are serving overseas.

I know our country isn’t perfect and we can’t go back and change the mistakes we’ve made, but let us remember the men and women who have fought for this nation. They gave up so much to give us the freedoms we have today. Freedom has a price, and they certainly paid a big one. To those who have served and for those currently serving our country, thank you. Keep fighting.

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