U.S. Army Spc. Jeffrey L. White Jr., a passionate St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, was planning on attending the St. Louis Cardinals home opener on Friday.

He never made it to the game.

White was killed Tuesday, April 3, half a world away in Afghanistan. The 2008 Pacific High School graduate was on duty in the Khowst Province of Afghanistan when insurgents attacked his unit using an IED, or improvised explosive device, while on mounted patrol. Five other soldiers were wounded in the incident.

White was 21 years old.

In a fitting tribute to a fan who took leave last October to attend Game 7 of the World Series, the Cardinals invited White’s family to hoist the 2011 World Series championship banner on opening day.

It was one of the best days of the year for jubilant Cardinals fans still giddy over a spectacular World Series run. We’re sure it was one of the toughest days for White’s family. It put things in perspective for the fans who attended the game. It was a poignant reminder that there are more important things than baseball even in a baseball-crazy town like St. Louis.

That was evident again on Saturday when a large crowd turned out in the rain along the streets of Pacific to honor the fallen soldier as his remains were brought home. It was truly impressive to see young and old alike, turn out to pay their respects to a fallen soldier. Anyone who believes patriotism is on the wane in this country wasn’t in Pacific on Saturday. All of the people who turned out had other things they could have been doing. Instead, they bore witness to the real cost of freedom.

There is a shifting consciousness about the nearly decade-long wars in the Middle East. The majority of our forces have been withdrawn from Iraq. Osama Bin Laden is dead and the Al-Queda terrorist network has been largely dismantled. The majority of Americans want us to withdraw all of our troops from the region. It’s too expensive, they argue.

For many of us there is simply an indifference to the wars and the inherent sacrifice as we struggle to make ends meet in a lingering recession.

Others compare the conflicts to Vietnam and decry the loss of life and the blood shed over what they feel are unnecessary wars that have gone on too long. They question what these young men and women are still dying for.

We can debate the merits of our country’s policies all we want — and we should — but the reality is that soldiers don’t get to choose the wars they fight. They are sent to serve.

They are sent with an understanding that they may be called to give the ultimate sacrifice. We still have men and women who believe enough in our country and its promise of freedom to assume this risk.

Thanks for serving, Jeffrey L. White Jr., we are grateful for your sacrifice.