I didn’t say “Happy Memorial Day” this year. Memorial Day is not a day of celebration but of commemoration, remembering the American dead–those who have served in the military and those who have died in war.

I’ve never been to Washington, D.C., to view the monuments there, although one day I may. The Wall that Heals Vietnam Memorial Replica came to Oneonta for Memorial Day weekend. Frank and I were very moved as we viewed the wall and memorial display. We came of age during the Viet Nam Conflict. Although the people closest to us did not serve or die there, we know men who left the security our our country, leaving behind family and friends and future plans. These were not just names that died. They were people, mostly men, who gave their lives in service to our country. And we know that when the living soldiers returned home, many of them suffered name-calling and mistreatment by their fellow-Americans who did not agree with the war. Perhaps it was a conflict we should never have entered, and we know that innocent people lost their lives, but I, for one, am glad we are remembering the Viet Nam veterans for their service and sacrifice.

Each generation alive today has shared in an international conflict in some way, more recently Iraq and Afghanistan. Soldiers, men and women, have returned home suffering from physical injury, loss of comrades-in-arms, and PTSD. They struggle to reenter society and their families. Without jobs they struggle financially. Mentally and emotionally they struggle to accept their lives on home soil after the atrocities of war they have viewed and experienced. Some are left homeless and friendless.

Can we reach out to a vet we know, or to a family who has lost a loved one in combat, to show we care and recognize their sacrifice?

I think it’s okay to have picnics and be with family and friends on Memorial Day. But I like to remember why this holiday is on our calendars. Parents brought their children to the memorial in Oneonta. The ancient Israelites were told to teach their children, each generation teaching the next. Isn’t it our responsibility to do the same? Freedom isn’t free–that’s truth. We are not a perfect people, but we have something worthy of our hard work and sacrifice.