When I was in 10th grade I had to do a special project for my American History class. I had two uncles who fought in World War II in the Pacific, and thought that it would be interesting to interview them on their experiences. They had a friend of theirs who was a prisoner of war in Germany and included him in the interview.
My Uncle James was in the Merchant Marine and saw combat on ship against the Japanese. My Uncle Dan was a mechanic in the Air Force and stationed in the South Pacific. Though he wasn't a direct combatant, he was still in combat situations. Their friend (whose name I'm sorry to say I don't remember almost 20 years later) was in the Army and was captured in Europe. All three had extraordinary stories. The POW talked about interaction with the Nazi guards at the prisoner camp. Uncle Dan had to jump into ditch when a Japanese fighter strafed his camp. Uncle James saw a nearby ship destroyed by a Kamikazi fighter. These men risked their lives to preserve freedom for all people, not just Americans.
I have had other friends and relatives serve in the military, including the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The personal relations and stories hit the closest, but I have incredible respect for anyone who chooses to serve our country this way. And I have such admiration and debt to those who have died in service.
Today is Memorial Day in America. This holiday was first started to commemorate the people who died in our Civil War. Since then we have expanded it to honor all men and women who die in military service. The phrase "Freedom isn't free" is a bit overused nowadays, but that doesn't make it less true. We owe our current society not to the politicians and presidents, but to the average soldier, marine, sailor, airman, and guard who have sacrificed their families and lives to preserve what we know and love. We need to remember them today, and also remember those they left behind. Our idea of modern civilization throughout the Western World would be quite different without them. We forget that at our own peril.