Memorial Day is a holiday often connected with the end of the school year, start of vacation season and a time for outings and picnics, but its true purpose, honoring America's fallen heroes, should not be overshadowed.
Americans are reminded on this day they owe their freedom to those who have been willing to fight, and die if necessary, for their country. Hundreds of thousands have made the ultimate sacrifice from days of the Revolutionary War to current times.
And it is no holiday for American troops currently fighting terrorists and other enemies of freedom around the world.
In all, more than 1.3 million Americans have died in war since the country was founded.
The idea of a memorial day has been traced to the ancient Greeks, who lauded the dead who had given their lives in defense of their country.
In the United States, Memorial Day had its beginning in 1868 when Gen. John A. Logan issued an order designating May 30, "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of our comrades who died in defense of their country" and to pay further honor and respect to their memories.
It was first observed by war veterans, and then by most of the nation, on May 30. In 1971, Congress changed the date for celebrating Memorial Day, after 104 years, from the traditional May 30 to the last Monday in May (that happens to be May 26 this year).
There are American National Cemetery sites, both foreign and domestic, chosen because of their historic locations.
But Arlington National Cemetery is the resting place of the greatest number of Medal of Honor recipients in any one place.
Reflecting on a visit to Arlington Cemetery, Ed Feulner, then the president of The Heritage Foundation, once said: "Those simple grave markers tell great stories. Many represent those who served bravely overseas, then came home to raise families, start businesses and build a great nation. Others signify those who never made it back. They made the ultimate sacrifice so the rest of us could live in freedom and prosperity."
Memorial Day also is a time to celebrate the living, he suggested, those Americans who voluntarily don our country's uniform and fight for liberty. "It's worth remembering that every person who has enlisted since late 2001 has done so knowing we're at war, and understanding that combat experience is likely," Feulner said.
This holiday also is an appropriate occasion to honor these patriots and thank them for their service, we believe.
"Because of our brave troops, the United States faces a bright future of freedom and prosperity," Feulner said.
That's still true today.
Memorial Day is about honoring those who made the final sacrifice in service to their country.
It also is appropriate in the process to honor those patriots in uniform today and thank them for their service that continues to preserve the United States as the "land of the free and the home of the brave."