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AN ASSOCIATED PRESS story this week reported that the United States has now been in Iraq longer than we were involved in World War II.

The war in Iraq passed World War II on Sunday, and now follows the Vietnam War, the American Revolution, and the Civil War in length of involvement by American troops.

It seems strange, doesn’t it? I mean, most of our society has this feeling that American troops are serving over in Iraq and Afghanistan purely in a peace keeping mode. We hear the conflict called a “war” in the media; but do most of us ever stop and consider the cost of what’s going on?

For me, the American involvement in World War II and the brave men and women who served there and died there has been the standard bearer for patriotism. It was a time when our entire society “went to war”, as people on the home front rationed food and services and did without some things in order to help the war effort.

We bought war bonds and flew our flags. Women went to work in factories in order to continue the industrial work left behind by men going off to fight.

I guess we all remember World War II because of two main “blows” – one that started it and one that ended it.

Our society rallied to the effort when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, not unlike how our citizens rallied together on September 11th, 2001, when the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. were felt.

But the difference is that back then, we had a clear cut foe in our sights; but in the five years since the Twin Towers fell, we are a society that is still trying to figure out who we are fighting – and if we are fighting at all.

Believe me, we’re fighting.

Just ask those volunteers who showed up at the American Legion on Saturday morning to fill boxes that are being sent to our troops. Many have family members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan – and they have no problem understanding the scope of what we are involved in.

But, on a national level, our leaders are trying to decide if the best course of action is to bring our troops home, or to send 140,000 more soldiers over there. One New York senator even advocated the reimplementation of the draft.

But I’m still wondering – are we involved in a war, or aren’t we?

I know we’ve got people dying over there. All of them are brave men and women who understood the scope of their job and responsibility; but is there a mixed signal when we talk back home about protecting the Iraqi people and helping to establish a democracy and keeping the Middle East safe from terrorism.

We still haven’t found Osama bin Laden. There is still a perceived nuclear threat in North Korea. Iran continues to be unstable. Some reports say that what our troops are actually doing is helping to fight a civil war.

And the clock continues to click.

In four months we will pass the Civil War. The Revolutionary War is a year after that. Only the brave soldiers of the Vietnam War, who fought and served for eight years and five months, will have been involved in a longer conflict.

That conflict, however, lasted so long that American support of the effort suffered, and that flowed over onto the soldiers.

As this country heads towards a fourth year in Iraq, it is my hope that none of us confuse the message with the messenger. Our soldiers will continue to bravely battle and do their job, and we need to make sure that we support them fully.

No matter how long it takes.

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Dear Aaron:

I guess we can’t understand the sorrow and frustration; but I want you to know that I miss you; and you’ll always be in my thoughts.

To me, you’ll always be #32 – at first that skinny kid whose jersey never fit quite right; and then that senior who led the Pacers to the sectional title. You did it with class and with skill and with a smile on your face that infected everyone who saw it.

You served your country with honor, and when you returned home, you always found time to share a handshake and some memories with all who knew you.

You’re gone now, but your spirit and our memories remain.

I wish you could have seen all of the people who lined up to pay their respects to you and your family. All of those who came and stood in line just to share their memories. All of the friends and family members who grieve for you today.

You were loved by so many. I wish I could have shared that with you.

Rest in peace, my friend.