A few months ago, a packed plane pulled into the gate at Reagan International Airport in Washington, D.C. As people were preparing to unfasten their seatbelts and collect their belongings, the pilot announced that we had had the honor of bringing home a fallen soldier along with his family. He asked everyone to show their appreciation for the soldier's service, which prompted thunderous applause.
Then, out of respect for the soldier and his family, the plane went silent as they were ushered off the plane. It was poignant and somber. People were clearly moved. Some shed tears; others closed their eyes. Nobody complained about needing to get off the plane to catch another flight.
Through the years, more than 1 million men and women have lost their lives protecting the freedoms and interests of the United States of America. Monday is Memorial Day: A day set aside to remember the men and women who died while serving our country.
Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the war. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.
Because of the generations of yesteryear who answered the call to serve, we enjoy living in the freest nation in the world. As a result, we can be a light to other nations and people, especially those nations where people's freedoms are suppressed.
Freedom has never been free - it is costly. It has required sacrifice - being a prisoner of war, leaving behind loved ones to serve, even the supreme sacrifice of giving one's life. Remembering the great sacrifices that have been made in order for us to enjoy what we have today is what Memorial Day is about.
In the midst of celebrating the beginning of summer, take time to help your family fully understand the freedom we experience on a daily basis. Encourage your children to think about sacrifices that have been made for freedom on their family's behalf and to appreciate what our current military does in more than 80 countries around the world. Here are a few ways to participate in honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice:
• Visit the National Cemetery and place flags or flowers on the graves of our fallen heroes.
• Visit the Veteran's Memorial Park in Collegedale.
• Fly the U.S. flag at half-staff until noon.
• Participate in a "National Moment of Remembrance" at 3 p.m. to pause and reflect upon the true meaning of the day.
• Pledge to assist the widows, widowers and orphans of our fallen dead and to aid the disabled veterans.
• Make care packages to send overseas.
• Write a thank-you note to someone you know who has served in the armed forces.
• Remember the men and women who serve and their families in your thoughts and prayers.
According to a recent poll, 80 percent of Americans don't know the meaning behind Memorial Day. We can change that by making sure we teach our children about this day and model what it means to appreciate those who have sacrificed on our behalf.
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.