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During the eight years of the American Revolutionary War, which led to the nation’s independence from Great Britain, approximately 25,000 Americans lost their lives. During the American Civil War of 1861-1865, certain single battles accounted for a greater number of deaths than all the American wars that had preceded it. Counting both the north and the south, as one must, that war became America’s bloodiest, with about 625,000 deaths. More than half the deaths in either of these wars occurred from disease, rather than combat.

The First World War accounted for just over 100,000 American deaths, the Second World War just over 400,000. Both the Korean War and the Vietnam War saw a loss of over 50,000 American lives, mostly from combat. As of this writing, American military losses in the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan approach the combined mark of 5,000.

Memorial Day, the third Monday of May, is the American holiday dedicated to commemorating the more than 1,300,000 Americans who have died in the nation’s wars.

As in any other country, Americans hold their war dead in high esteem, erecting monuments, honoring the dead with parades, moments of silence, and other ceremonies. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, DC, stark in its simplicity, is a moving tribute to the sacrifices made by those who fought what is probably America’s most tragic and ambiguous conflict.

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