Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, picnics, a long weekend away from work and a time spent with family and friends. I always knew it was a day of remembering those who fought for our freedoms and were no longer with us. For some reason, I never separated the men and women killed in action from the 85-year-old World War II veteran who passed away last week. They all fought and they all died, but Memorial Day isn't about those who came home to their families. It is about those brave souls who died in a strange land, who never got to say goodbye, never got married, never saw their children grow up. At 41 years old, I finally learned the true meaning of Memorial Day and felt the pain of it.
Five years ago, Memorial Day 2011 was the first Memorial Day in 26 years without my Godson and cousin, SGT Steven DeLuzio on this earth. We didn't spend every Memorial Day together, but I never had to question whether I would see him again. He was a great guy, friend to everyone he met and always there for those he loved. He smiled everywhere he went, brought joy to so many, his laughter was infectious and his dedication to our country was strong. He was a born leader and a true American hero who gave the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed in action in Afghanistan on August 22, 2010 along with SGT Tristan Southworth.
Prior to that, I was like most Americans, spending every Memorial Day weekend without a care in the world enjoying barbecues, parades and time with those I love. We still attend picnics, take advantage of a long weekend together with family, but now we also make a point to reflect on the lives lost so we can have those gifts. We have taught my children that as long as we appreciate the freedoms we have in this country, Steve's death and the deaths of all those fighting for the United States will not be in vain. We celebrate life everyday and to continue to live as if Steve were about to walk through the door, that is how we honor him. He wouldn't want it any other way.
You might have missed Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May honoring those serving) but it is never too late to honor the men and women who are working everyday to protect our lives and freedoms. Anytime you see a veteran, thank them for their service. They deserve more than Veteran's Day (November 11) to be appreciated for all they have done. You've got 364 days in the year in which you can reach out to thank and remember those who came home and are still on the front lines.
But on this one day, Memorial Day, take a moment to pause, raise a glass or observe a moment of silence to remember those we've lost, say a prayer for those families who are missing someone at their gathering. You can also join in the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American (IAVA) and pledge to #GoSilent for one full minute at 12:01pm ET in remembrance of our fallen service members. One minute is the least we can give for those who gave their lives for us.