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A U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Spc. Tyler J. Orgaard, of Bismark, N.D., at Dover Air Force Base.
ATLANTA--It's easy to forget that thousands of Americans are still at war.
Whether we're immersed in our families, jobs, hobbies, televisions, computers, or smartphones, there are plenty of ways to avoid thinking about a faraway place called Afghanistan. The 1 percent of our population that volunteers to protect us, however, doesn't have that luxury.
Two North Dakota families are experiencing incomprehensible devastation after a Dec. 3 terrorist attack in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. According to the Department of Defense, two North Dakota National Guardsmen died that day when "enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device."
The fallen soldiers' names are Sgt. 1st Class Darren Linde, 41, of Devils Lake, N.D., and Spc. Tyler Orgaard, 20, of Bismarck, N.D.
As I read the casualty notice on my iPhone, I thought about the agony that has been described to me by moms, dads, wives, husbands, and siblings who've lost loved ones in Afghanistan or Iraq. To this day, casualty assistance officers are still knocking on the doors of military families that will never be the same.
Instead of hugging and kissing their families at a homecoming ceremony, Sgt. 1st Class Linde and Spc. Orgaard returned to American soil inside flag-draped caskets. Fellow soldiers saluted and bowed their heads during the Dec. 5 dignified transfer ceremony at Delaware's Dover Air Force Base.
During the holiday season, the Linde and Orgaard families are forced to endure the first painful weeks of an unimaginably difficult journey. As we grieve alongside the loved ones of the brave adults and precious children murdered in the tragic Connecticut elementary school massacre, let's also keep these military families, as well as loved ones of all our nation's fallen heroes, in our thoughts and prayers.
According to the North Dakota National Guard, a third soldier, Spc. Ian Placek, 23, was wounded in the Dec. 3 attack. Like thousands of fellow wounded warriors, Spc. Placek, his family and his caregivers have earned our utmost respect, appreciation, and gratitude. As Americans, we have no greater obligation than caring for the valiant men and women who fought for us.
The war in Afghanistan is happening right now. It didn't end when Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden or after any of the last three presidential elections. Every day, brave troops like Linde, Orgaard, and Placek are patrolling through rugged, dangerous terrain, constantly threatened by enemy snipers and roadside bombs.
I recently went to see the movie "Lincoln" at a local theater. During the film, I was struck most by a scene in which the 16th president, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, rides on horseback through a Civil War battlefield while looking in anguish at countless fallen warriors. Then, to pay tribute, Lincoln removes his iconic hat.
The 19th century was obviously a much different time. But I believe 21st-century America would be a better place if we all followed President Abraham Lincoln's example. We must do more to honor the extraordinary men and women who volunteer to risk their lives on post-9/11 battlefields.
Perhaps some of Lincoln's most famous words, uttered on the bloody Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg, can help reawaken our nation to the sacrifices of its heroes.
"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion," Lincoln said on Nov. 19, 1863. "That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."
As Lincoln's words inspire us, so should the words of Adrienne Linde, wife of fallen Sgt. 1st Class Darren Linde and mother of their four children.
"Darren gave his life so that others could pass through safely," a statement from the grieving widow said.
As the war in Afghanistan enters its 12th year, let's renew our commitment to honoring America's brave men and women in uniform. Without them, life as we know it would perish.
Tom Sileo is a columnist for Creators Syndicate.