Two U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday night when their helicopter went down near Baquba, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad.

One of the two, who died when their helicopter was shot down and crashed in central Iraq, was pilot Matt Lourey, son of a Minnesota state senator, Becky Lourey.

Leading into Memorial Day weekend, a holiday established to honor American war dead, the Department of Defense reported that 1,653 U.S. forces have died in Iraq since the start of the war.

There are various claims about the origins of Memorial Day, but most involve widows or townspeople gathering to place flowers on the graves of fallen Civil War soldiers.

The holiday became official in 1868 by the declaration of Major General John A. Logan, head of the Union soldiers veterans organization.

“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or other decorating, graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion,” stated his original orders.

Eventually it was broadened to commemorate the dead in all American wars.

Memorial Day was originally on May 30, but in 1971 an act of Congress moved it to the last Monday in May, creating the current three-day weekend.

In an effort to recapture the holiday’s patriotic roots, President Clinton and Congress in 2000 passed “The National Moment of Remembrance Act” asking all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. in a silent moment of reflection to honor our soldiers.

In many communities, Boy Scouts and other volunteers decorate the graves of soldiers with American flags.

Each year nearly 60,000 lei are needed to decorate the graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl and other veterans’ cemeteries in Hawaii for Memorial Day.

Inspired in 1915 by the poem “In Flanders Field,” Georgia educator Moina Michael came up with the idea to wear red poppies on Memorial Day to honor those who died serving the nation in war. She sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with proceeds going to benefit servicemen in need.

In 1922, the Veterans of Foreign Wars began selling poppies nationwide. Their Buddy Poppy program each year sells artificial poppies made by disabled veterans to raise funds for veteran’s programs and partial support of the VFW National home for orphans and widows of veterans.

As of May 27, the Department of Defense counted 1,653 U.S. casualties since the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. That’s more than four times the 382 who died Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991.

Another 187 have died in Operation Enduring Freedom, including casualties occurring in Afghanistan, Philippines, Pakistan, Kuwait, Persian Gulf, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Djibouti, Uzbekistan, Arabian Sea, Qatar and the North Arabian Peninsula.

There have been 1,583 U.S. fatalities since May 1, 2003, the day President Bush declared major combat efforts were over.

In all 12,348 Americans have been wounded in action.

A Web site monitoring civilian deaths from military intervention in Iraq estimates the number between 21,795 and 24,735. That includes 238 civilian contractors killed in Iraq, 87 who were Americans.

While still a small war when compared to other principal wars in which the U.S. has participated, casualties in Iraq are gaining on the 2,260 killed in the War of 1812 and 2,446 in the Spanish-American War.

The bloodiest American war was the Civil War, which killed 364,511 Union forces alone. Estimates including both sides range from 618,000 to 700,000. The most-often quoted number is 620,000.

A total of 405,399 Americans died in World War II. There were 116,516 casualties in World War I, 58,209 in Vietnam and 36,574 in Korea. A comparatively small number, 4,435, died in the Revolutionary War, which lasted 1775-1783. The Mexican War of 1846-1848 killed 13,283.

The deadliest battle in U.S. history was the Battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1-3, 1863. Deaths numbered 51,112 (23,049 Union and 28,063 Confederate.) The biggest loss in a single day came Sept. 17, 1862, in Antietam, Md., when 12,410 Union and 13,724 Confederate soldiers died in battle, a casualty total of 26,134.

The Battle of Stalingrad, fought between September 1942 and January 1943, is the bloodiest battle in history. An estimated 1.1 million German and Soviet troops died. It ended with surrender of the entire German army and was a major turning point in World War II.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

Share This