Here is a surprise: I am not going to defend the Iraq war. I won't even explain the importance of the war on terrorism. Veterans Affairs budget? Not today. That's because this column is about Memorial Day, a hallowed day that should be about honoring the more than 1 million men and women who died in the service of this nation in wars and conflicts dating back to 1775. It should be above politics. Period.
Yet Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is calling on Americans to use Memorial Day weekend as a time to "bring an end to this war." Mr. Edwards is hardly the first politician from either political party to exploit this day, a holiday that was consecrated with the blood of American heroes. As national commander of the American Legion, I implore all candidates to refrain from politicking on Memorial Day.
The families of those killed in war should not be led to believe that their loved ones died for a less-than-worthy cause. They died because they took an oath to defend this nation and its Constitution. The sacrifice is the same whether it's for a "popular war" or an unpopular one. Memorial Day should be an occasion to bring Americans together to honor these heroes.
It brings to mind the words of Army Sergeant 1st Class Jack Robison, who recently wrote from Iraq, "Sometimes I think God must be creating an elite unit in heaven, because He only seems to select the very best soldiers to bring home early."
If you want to honor these heroes, visit a veterans' cemetery on Memorial Day. Attend a parade without the divisive political signs. Make cards for the comrades of the fallen who are recuperating in military and VA hospitals. Lay a wreath at the headstone of a departed hero.
Americans need to remember why Memorial Day is special. It's not about picnics or trips to the beach. It's not about making pro- or anti-war statements. It's not about supporting political candidates. It's about honor, duty, and the ultimate sacrifice. It's about people who have decided that the United States is worth dying for.
• Paul Morin is national commander of the American Legion, the nation's largest wartime veterans organization.