Thousands of Americans remembered March 20 with protests parades, others with candlelight ceremonies and prayers, while others had no clue it was the sixth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

On March 20, 2003, President George W. Bush announced his administration had launched a preemptive strike against Iraq. In six years, we are left with these facts. Iraq appears to be safer, as violence has ebbed, at a cost of $660 billion dollars and counting. The human equation is staggering with nearly one million Iraq lives lost, 40,000 wounded Americans and 4,260 American dead.

Included in those fatalities are 76 men and women from Missouri, eight of them from Jackson County. There names cry out to you – “Lest we forget.”

From Kansas City we salute Donald Walters, killed on March 23, 2003, and Charles Wilkerson, who died on May 22, 2005.

From Blue Springs, Anthony Mazzarella sacrificed his life on July 5, 2005, and from Independence our hearts also go out to the families of Jeremiah Smith, May 27, 2003; Joel Bertoldie, July 18, 2003; Shawn Rankinen, March 7, 2007; Benjamin Ashley, May 24, 2007; and Matthew Murchison, August 4, 2007.

Now 17,000 more Americans are going to help fight that other “forgotten war” in Afghanistan in which 669 Americans have already perished. Military honor guards from all branches are in demand these days with 21 military funerals a day in Jackson County alone. These numbers include veterans who fought in conflicts or who served in peacetime.

Approximately 900 veterans from World War II leave us each day. Charlie Jamis, the commander of the VFW Honor Guard for Jackson County, says the honor guard averages six to eight funerals a month.

Dennis Pugh, sergeant-at-arms for the American Legion in Blue Springs states, “We average that same number and have been honored to participate in 60 military funerals since last August, the start of our fiscal year.”

Commander Jerry Pace of Independence American Legion Post 21 says the group is creating an honor guard.

As for the fallen, Archie Hughes the commander of the Independence VFW eloquently notes, “When the gates of freedom were challenged, you served your country gallantly with strength and enormous courage. For this, we can stand under a flag of pride and glory and salute you. May your reward in heaven be great. Signed, the men and women of the VFW, Post 1738”

I give you President John Adams’ toast: Independence Forever.