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As many of us enjoy a fun-filled Memorial Day, let's not forget the reason the holiday was created – to honor those who have given their lives for the United States. Originally established in 1868 to honor those who died in the Civil War, the day was eventually broadened to commemorate those lost in all conflicts.

Although exact numbers are difficult to establish, Michigan has lost more than 24,800 soldiers since World War I, according to the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency. The most soldiers fell during World War II, with 15,456 Michiganians dying.

Thankfully, most armed service members who fought in conflicts oversees returned home to Michigan as veterans. Let's remember them today as well.

Michigan's veteran population is huge – more than 660,000 alive today, the 11th largest veteran population in the U.S., representing about 6.5 percent of the state's population.

If you encounter a veteran today, remember to say thank you.

The U.S. Armed Forces are currently spread throughout the world in either active duty or support roles. Even with downsizing and budget reductions in the military, as of the end of last year, there were still more than 3 million Americans in the military according to Defense Manpower Data Center of the Secretary of Defense. More than 1,550 of them are from Michigan.

Many of these service members risk their lives every day. The May 12 death of six Marines when their helicopter crashed during a humanitarian mission in Nepal is a sad reminder of this. According to James Carafano of the Heritage Institute, one-third of the U.S. Navy is always at sea, even in peace time.

In addition to humanitarian work, U.S. armed forces are stationed in places such as southern Asia, the Sinai Peninsula and South Korea in training and peace keeping capacities. While these roles aren't active combat, they come with dangers.

The military is helping sustain counter piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, assisting the Ukrainian government in putting down an insurrection and assisting with occasional operations in Somalia.

And although President Barack Obama has almost withdrawn all of the troops in Iraq and greatly reduced the number in Afghanistan, there are still over 70,000 service members deployed in those countries. That's where most of Michigan's troops are serving.

Those members of the military not only face issues specific to their service, but the everyday challenges faced by civilians.

So enjoy the parades and the cookouts, but don't forget our fallen heroes, our veterans, and those still fighting.

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