As the country mourns the loss of the seven members of the Columbia crew, it is also grieving the loss of four more members of the military in Afghanistan, the men who died in the crash of a Blackhawk helicopter on Jan. 30: Sgt. Gregory M. Frampton, 37, of California; Chief Warrant Officer Thomas J. Gibbons, 31, of Tennessee; Staff Sgt. Daniel Kisling Jr. 31, of Missouri; and Chief Warrant Officer Mark S. O’Steen, 43, of Alabama. These deaths brought the number of U.S. military killed in the Afghanistan campaign to 47. It is likely that there will be more – and that even greater numbers will die in any war with Iraq. It is also likely that so long as men and women catapult into space, still others will not return.

In honoring our explorers and our warriors, the country continues one of the oldest traditions of free peoples, that of paying tribute to those who both extend and defend their borders. Though the only conquests America seeks in the new millennium are those of ignorance and disease, the exploration is still often perilous. The defense of the United States has never not been dangerous. The courage of warriors and explorers is awe-inspiring, and it is important for the nation to recognize the loss it mourns: The death of brave men and women who are honored for their bravery.

In one of the oldest recorded speeches of a freely elected leader, Pericles of Athens honored the city’s dead warriors from the first year of the long war with Sparta. The year was 430 B.C. Before praising the warriors, Pericles took time to praise the city they defended – its constitution, its democracy, the fact that “we throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing, although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit from our liberality.”

Athens, he proclaimed, “alone among her contemporaries is found when tested to be greater than her reputation.” Among the reasons to take pride in Athenian citizenship: “We have forced every sea and land to be the highway of our daring, and everywhere, whether for evil or for good, have left imperishable monuments behind us.”

Pericles dwelt first on the state from which the heroes came in order to testify that they had died defending a great cause: “Such is the Athens for which these men, in the assertion of their resolve not to lose her, nobly fought and died; and well may every one of their survivors be ready to suffer in her cause.” This is the argument of Pericles:

So died these men as became Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unfaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray it have a happier issue. You must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honor in action that men were enabled to win all this.

For this offering of their lives made in common by them all they each of them individually received that renown which never grows old. For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart. And surely, to a man of spirit, the degradation of cowardice must be immeasurably more grievous than the unfelt death which strikes him in the midst of his strength and patriotism.

Because these astronauts and soldiers died in the service of our country, and because our country is great and good, those who love the country mourn the dead as though they were our closest kin. We admire them for their courage, which was on our behalf. We are indebted to them. So it has been since free people fought for their freedom and explored far away places for their knowledge, and so it will always be as long as there are free peoples.

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