We marched to the local cemetery to pay respects to people we never knew by planting a flag in front of their tombstone and giving the best salutes we could muster as the 21-gun salute went off as Taps played in the distance.

I never really understood what I was doing or why. All my friends participated but it seemed like serious business and my elders acknowledged that it was a more important day than I realized at the time. I am older now, although I am no scholar, I do have a better understanding of what Memorial Day is all about.

The history of Memorial Day is vague and many cities claim to be birthplace due to local observances beginning in 1866. It wasn’t until 1868 that Memorial Day, originally named Decoration Day, as a time to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers, was first observed at Arlington Cemetery. It was in 1971 that Memorial Day became a national holiday.

I know I can never fully understand or appreciate the things our soldiers have been through as I have had friends return home with drastically different responses to their time in the service. I can simply shake their hands and thank them for their service. To me, they may not be “fallen” but they have sacrificed more then I will ever know. To those who return home, appreciation is found in a handshake and a thank you. To the fallen soldiers, MIA, and POW, I can only pause in remembrance, lower my American flag to half-staff, and decorate the graves of lost soldiers.

It is now many years later, the innocence and joy of marching in a parade I felt as a child has been replaced with a sense of gratitude. It is easy to get wrapped up in time off, cookouts and holiday shopping prices. It is easy to forget what the men and women of our Armed Forces have sacrificed for their mission, their lives and their calling. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice.

This Memorial Day, remember those who fought in our stead. Remember those from the battles that made this country, wars that freed others from oppression and those who have helped provide the way of life we enjoy today. Honor our fallen fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, friends and family, thank them for their service, honor your elders and celebrate our freedom. Thank you, to all who have given of themselves and given their lives for our country, for our freedom, for our loved ones and for us.

From Me and Misses Whitey, Superbowl, Monkey and Lou. Remember our fallen and celebrate the very freedoms they fought for.