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Here in “Livable, Lovable Lodi,” we are blessed each Memorial Day by Cherokee Memorial Park’s annual “Avenue of Flags.” Today marks the fiftieth year that Memorial Day has been commemorated by a breathtakingly beautiful display of American flags.

These are not just any ordinary flags, however. When a veteran is buried, entombed or inurned in the cemetery, his/her family may donate the flag and purchase a flag pole. Thereafter, the flag, bearing the veteran’s name, and dates of birth and death, is flown each and every Memorial Day.

A veteran of the United States Army who served during World War II in the Pacific Theater (Australia and New Zealand), my father rarely talked about his military experiences. We knew that it was a painful subject he preferred not to reminisce about. But he was proud to be a veteran and every Memorial Day he made it a point to drive out to the cemetery and see the flags displayed. In fact, I have the home movies he took many years ago and it is amazing to see how the cemetery has expanded and the number of flags flying there increased over the years.

So after his death, there was no discussion needed. We knew that he wanted his flag, presented to my mother when he received full posthumous military honors, donated to wave proudly in the breeze in his honor each year.

The cemetery has added a new section called the “Garden of Freedom,” designated as the final resting place for not just veterans, but also peace officers, fire fighters, support staff members and spouses.

But the most moving tribute at the cemetery today was the collection of small flags displayed in honor of the military personnel who have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. There were more than 3,400 of them. Far too many to capture in one photo from any available vantage point.

I was moved by the juxtaposition of the large flags waving along the roadways that weave through the grounds and the densely packed field of small flags.

Today we honor the United States’ military personnel who never came home.

I hope that wherever you were today, whatever activities you engaged in, you stopped to remember those who are currently serving and risking their lives, as well as those who served in past conflicts, but never made it back to their loved ones.

I don’t care what your political opinions are . . . today is not a day to think or argue about politics. Today is a day when we need to stop, pause and look at all these flags dotting the grass and remember that each one represents the life of a young man or woman that ended far too soon. Irrespective of what you think about the wisdom of the leaders of this nation who sent them into battle, they died bravely, in service to this country. They died doing the job that they were sent to do and they are survived by grieving families and friends.

Most sobering to me is the fact that the majority of these 3,400-plus flags represent the lives of men and women who never celebrated their twenty-fifth birthdays — and never will.

Tomorrow we can resume the debate about how to bring their brothers and sisters still serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations back home safely. Tomorrow we can pick up where we left off in the battle to select a new president. Tomorrow we can again argue with each other about whether Rosie O’Donnell’s remarks were right or wrong, whether George Bush should finish out his term or be impeached, and all the rest of it.

But just for today, we owe it to all those who gave up their very lives to take a break from our own busy lives to light a candle and say to each and every one of them:

“Bless you and those who loved you. Well done, good and faithful servants.”

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