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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My belated thanks to you for encouraging your readers to send holiday messages to our troops. By letter, and more recently via the Internet, OperationDearAbby.net has put countless Americans directly in touch with the fine men and women who serve in uniform.

We at the Pentagon also want to thank the many thoughtful people who wrote to us after our building was struck by the hijacked plane on Sept. 11, 2001.

Americans across the U.S.A. as well as people from other countries around the world sent condolences, encouragement and support. They prayed for us, lit candles, sang for us and drew colorful pictures. We have received angels and flags, posters, banners, beautiful quilts -- even a can of lima beans from a schoolchild in Georgia -- not to mention thousands of cards, some as large as a wall.

Abby, please remind your readers what President Bush said about the war on terror: "Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have seen." Our military is filled with the sons and daughters of America. They make us proud. -- DONALD H. RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, WASHINGTON, D.C.

DEAR MR. SECRETARY: Indeed they do. I am honored to pass along your important message and I urge my readers to continue to write and support our troops wherever they are. Regardless of one's political leanings, after Sept. 11, we are united in a war against terrorism.

DEAR ABBY: What is the meaning of Memorial Day?

That is a question I asked a group of children visiting our nation's capital a few years ago. Their reply: "It's the day the swimming pools open." That innocent response launched an effort to reclaim Memorial Day for the noble and patriotic purpose for which it was intended.

With the help of U.S. senator Chuck Hagel, the National Moment of Remembrance was established by an act of Congress. President Bush and the Congress strongly support this demonstration of national unity, which calls for all Americans to pause and reflect for one minute wherever they may be at 3 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, in remembrance of those who have died to preserve our freedom. Those who are driving can turn on their vehicle headlights, and we encourage the playing of "Taps" at public events and on radio and television stations.

Since our nation was founded, almost 2 million men and women have sacrificed their lives to defend and preserve this precious land of hopes and dreams. We are all connected as Americans and should all feel a kinship -- especially on Memorial Day. Their ultimate sacrifice continues to live in each constitutional right we enjoy.

On Memorial Day we hope your readers will please join together in solidarity with those whose grief is fresh and deep, to express their gratitude to the men and women who have died that we might live in freedom. In the words of author Herman Wouk, "The beginning of the end of war lies in remembrance." -- CARMELLA LA SPADA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE COMMISSION ON THE NATIONAL MOMENT OF REMEMBRANCE

DEAR CARMELLA: Memorial Day is Monday. I, too, hope that this year my readers will become more proactive about observing the true meaning of this holiday. If we do, in that one moment we will no longer be hyphenated-Americans; we will truly be one nation.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Keepers Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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