Lest we forget, Memorial Day is about the living as well as the dead.

Americans set aside the last Monday of May to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Yet without surviving family members, comrades and grateful citizens to hold these ceremonies, there would be no one to do the memorializing. And without today's servicemen and servicewomen willing to protect and defend, there would be no United States and no freedom to mark the three-day weekend as we choose.

Disturbing news casts a shadow on the days leading to Memorial Day 2019. The Pentagon recently released its biennial report on military sexual assaults and found that the number of reported assaults increased nearly 13% - from 6,769 in 2017 to 7,623 in 2018. Worse, the survey conducted for the report suggests that the true number of men and women assaulted may be as high as 20,500, so almost 70% filed no report.

This is unacceptable, as acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan so succinctly stated.

While the report's timing is obviously about the Pentagon's fiscal year rather than Memorial Day, the release in early May gives us pause to think about the risks associated with military service and about the attitudes toward sexual assault and sexual harassment. Of those who did report assault, 1 in 5 also experienced the harassment. Apparently, too many officers say the military as a whole won't tolerate such behavior ... but send the message that they will look the other way if the perpetrator is one of their own.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses the term "military sexual trauma" for the effects of sexual assault and harassment experienced during military service. The VA defines MST as any sexual activity that a servicemember is involved with against his or her will. Like other types of trauma, MST can damage a person's mental and physical health. MST sometimes surfaces years later - disturbing memories, nightmares, difficulty feeling safe, depression, problems with alcohol or other drugs.

Soldiers, sailors and Marines accept that combat risks come with donning the uniform. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are never part of the job. Clearly, no one signed up for this.

Our veterans deserve better memories than these.