05/28/11 — The heroes: Memorial Day is not just for cookouts. It is for remembering.

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The heroes: Memorial Day is not just for cookouts. It is for remembering.

It would be easy to wait until Monday to write this tribute. After all, that is technically Memorial Day -- the day when Americans are supposed to honor those who have given their lives in the defense of their nation.

But sometimes it is necessary to send a message early -- to remind those who are marking the holiday that it is about more than a day off work or a trip to the beach. Writing this reminder today allows them the time to put out their flags, to visit a cemetery and to pause to say "thank you" to those whose courage and bravery have allowed them to continue to live in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

It is not that surprising, really, that some people might not understand that Memorial Day is really one of America's most important holidays.

If your life has not been touched by the sacrifices made by America's servicemen and women across the decades, you might know, but not fully appreciate, what Monday means to those who have worn or who are wearing the uniform.

For them, especially those who have served in combat, it is a day of memories of comrades lost to enemy fire. Some of them were there as a buddy took his last breath. They will never forget those moments -- and neither should we.

War is not a squeaky clean enterprise. People die. As a nation, we should never forget the sacrifices that are made when we decide to bear arms in defense of people, nations and freedom anywhere around the world. We would do those who have given their lives, and those who are currently serving, a disservice if we ever forgot that freedom is not free.

We should teach young people, who sometimes see war as a video game, just what courage, sacrifice and serving your country really mean. They need to understand that what they see on Call of Duty is not what really happens on a battlefield. They need to understand that the heroes whose tours can be reset at the touch of a button in video games do not get their lives back in the real world.

There are heroes from every generation who have given their lives in defense of this nation -- and we are still hearing about casualties today in the continuing war on terror.

They have left behind fellow service members, families and friends whose lives have been forever altered by their absence.

There are children without fathers or memories of a parent they never got to know. There are mothers and fathers whose hearts have an empty spot that can never be filled.

There are wives and husbands who have had to go on with their lives without the person to whom they promised "forever."

They are also whom we should remember on Memorial Day.

The stories of the heroes who died with honor and courage while defending their nation could fill many, many volumes. Their dedication to their units and their country is inspiring -- and you cannot listen to their stories without a tear coming to your eye. Their sacrifices should never be forgotten or taken for granted.

And that is why, Monday, we should all take the time to remember. It is the least we can do for those who have given us so much.

Published in Editorials on May 28, 2011 11:33 PM