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Memorial Day: A new Airman’s perspective

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- As a newly minted second lieutenant, May 26 will mark my first Memorial Day in uniform. I may still be sporting butter bars, but my recent transition into military life has already offered a new perspective on the holiday.

The last Monday of May is reserved to celebrate our most distinguished heroes, the service members who sacrificed their lives defending our freedoms. Originally known as Decoration Day, it was conceived in 1868 to honor those who died fighting the Civil War. Over the years the holiday evolved, and now we celebrate Memorial Day to honor all service members who have died fighting for our country.

In a nation where so much respect is offered our military, it's shocking how little respect this holiday receives. Most people are more excited to celebrate their extended weekends than its true meaning. I believe this serious issue stems from a lack of understanding rather than a lack of respect.

In 2011, the National World War II Museum conducted a poll that revealed 80 percent of Americans have only "little" or "some" understanding of Memorial Day.

That is unacceptable.

What's worse is that this isn't a new phenomenon. In 2000, a similar poll conducted by Gallup found that only 28 percent of Americans knew why we celebrate Memorial Day. Recognizing the gravity of the problem, Congress created the National Moment of Remembrance in order to reinforce the holiday's significance. This national moment encourages all Americans to pause for a silent minute of reflection at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day.

Despite congressional effort and more than a decade of war, little has changed.

Each day we put on our uniforms, we reaffirm our commitment to our nation. In doing so, we honor our fallen. Let's use this Memorial Day to remind the rest of the country why it's important they honor them too.

Set time aside this holiday to help your friends and neighbors understand its significance. Go out and promote local parades and ceremonies. Start conversations on Facebook and Twitter. At the very least, take one minute out of your day to pause for the National Moment of Remembrance. Do whatever you can to inspire the people around you to celebrate the real meaning of Memorial Day.

We are fortunate to have men and women who courageously gave their lives for our country. Join me in acknowledging the immense debt we owe them and their loved ones left behind.

We can make a difference.