Remember soldiers' sacrifices past and present

The Polish American Cultural Center Museum on Walnut Street is not among the best-known attractions in Center City, but a ceremony there at noon today will mark one of the most important dates in history.

Seventy years ago today, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and started World War II. By the time the United States and its allies emerged victorious six years later, more than 60 million people around the globe had died in the fight to defeat fascism.

This anniversary is a reminder of the immense sacrifice made by our WWII veterans, whose numbers are dwindling, and to whom this nation has owed so much.

It hardly seems possible that 70 years have passed since the beginning of the conflagration that affected so many families, and still impacts our world today.

And in an era dominated by debate about "wars of choice," it's a reminder that the decision to use military force is rarely as clear-cut as it was against Germany and Japan. World War II was "the good war."

Today, the United States is still waging war in Afghanistan, a conflict that began nearly eight years ago. President Obama campaigned on a pledge to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq and beef up military operations in Afghanistan. He has largely kept to that plan, although his timetable for Iraq has slowedis threatened by escalating violence there.

The United States now has about 62,000 troops in Afghanistan, with plans to add 6,000 troops by the end of the year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in July that it would take "a few years" to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, the terror network that plotted the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan. He said he doesn't know how long U.S. troops will need to stay there.

Although this war isthe fights in Afghanistan and Iraq are being waged on a smaller scale than the global conflict that erupted 70 years ago, the sacrifices of theour soldiers are equal. They, too, are risking their lives for a cause in which they believetheir nation.

When the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's funeral procession stopped at the U.S. Capitol Saturday, hundreds of former staffers showed up to say good-bye. OneBut one former Kennedy aide who wasn't there was Marine Sgt. Bill Cahir. The native of Bellefonte, Pa., was killed two weeks ago by enemy fire in Afghanistan.

Cahir, 40, was a journalist who had worked as a Washington correspondent for several newspapers. After 9/11, he wanted to serve his country and enlisted in the Marines at age 34.

He served two tours in Iraq before going to Afghanistan. Those who knew him said he was as decent and honorable a man as you could ever hope to meet.

Cahir was also buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, two days after his former boss was laid to rest in the same ground. Among the mourners was Cahir's wife, who is pregnant with twins.

The Afghan war today does not rivet the nation's attention as much as the fightworld war that began seven decades ago with Hitler's invasion of Poland. But the sacrifices of Cahir and, his fellow troops, and their families are every bit as profound as the contributions of those who stood and fought this country's battles back then.