Devin Bartolotta reports

The Sun's stimulating coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Catonsville Nine, along with other events commemorating the anniversary, challenges us to reflect on our duty as citizens in a democracy (“My mother was the antagonist to the ‘Catonsville Nine,’” May 11). Whether one views their act as a courageous witness or an affront to our legal system (and it could be both at once), it has something in common with the actions of those of us who legally marched, demonstrate, and wrote letters: the war dragged on for years, the number of deaths mounted.

A year after the incident in Catonsville, Life magazine published photos of one week's American dead in Vietnam: 410 mostly young faces, a fraction of the more than 58,000 American military men and women who lost their lives in that war which dragged on until 1975. Think of it this way: if the Catonsville Nine burned the draft files this year, the war would continue seven more years until 2025.

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As it is, we might still be at war in 2025. Our troops have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan since 2002. The first Marylander, Staff Sgt. Walter "Trey" Cohee, 26, a Marine from Mardela Springs, was killed on January 20, 2002. The most recent was Army Sgt. Eric Houck of Baltimore who died on June 10, 2017 in Afghanistan.

As we approach Memorial Day, it's useful to look at these specific names and reflect on the reality of the day. I find our traditional observances — for those who actually observe Memorial Day — muffle, even glorify, the losses entailed by our wars. What is an appropriate commemoration of lives lost in Vietnam, which our leaders at the time knew was unwinnable but couldn't bring themselves to stop? What is the appropriate way to think of the lives lost in Iraq, a war begun under false pretenses? If we simply praise their sacrifice but don't learn from their deaths, have we done our duty as citizens?

One way to do our duty is to think about these lost lives in all their individuality, by reading their names aloud, by looking at their faces. For the past six years, we've done just this at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore and will do so again this year. We gather on Memorial Day at 11 a.m. for a service of music and poetry, of candlelight, but chiefly to read the names of the 163 service members from Maryland and Delaware who died in Afghanistan, Iraq and related theaters since January 20, 2002. We will project their photos as we read their names.

We will pledge to remember them. Whether you view them as fallen heroes or as victims of a deeply flawed foreign policy, it is crucial that we remember them. It's our duty as citizens. If we don't think of them on Memorial Day, when will we?

Michael S. Franch, Baltimore

The writer is affiliate minister, First Unitarian Church of Baltimore.

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