Memorial Day is more — far more — than a day for merchandise sales or the unofficial start of summer. It is a day we set aside to honor the brave men and women that have fallen in the performance of their military duties while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

At cemeteries across the nation, families will pay their humble respects and quiet tribute to a father, mother, sister or brother who gave their lives so that we, the living, may be heirs to the freedoms they defended. The loss may be fresh, or it may only be a distant but still painful memory, but if you visit Arlington National Cemetery, you will see the tokens of remembrance — flowers, stones and photos — left behind by those still grieving their loss.

Our honored dead yet whisper a warning to us, that freedom is not free, but must be paid for with sacrifice and heartbreak; “Blood, sweat, toil and tears,” as the great Winston Churchill warned his own brave people.

My own family’s service goes back to Bunker Hill and Cold Harbor, where we lost two fathers in combat. On Memorial Day we pray they will be the last to die, but that is not always up to the families. Today, as in the past, many of our young men and women are sent unprepared and ill-equipped into combat — sent by career politicians with cocktail-party courage, who have never served nor seen, smelled or tasted the horror of war.

On Memorial Day, many active-duty soldiers will visit Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to honor American men and women who struggle just to make it until tomorrow, because they endured the horror of war to ensure the blessings of liberty for you and me. I pray their selfless sacrifices will never be forgotten nor taken for granted.

On Memorial Day, we recall the words of The American Creed, passed as a resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 3, 1918, as America was in the midst of the “War to End All Wars.”

“I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”

On Memorial Day, no American should take their freedoms for granted. Instead, let us join together as one people, one nation under God, to honor our brothers and sisters who wear the uniform, the families that fear for them, and the ones who paid that terrible price for our liberty.

James R. Poplar III, of Quicksburg, proudly served with the U.S. government for over 40 years. He specialized in national security affairs at both Vanderbilt and the National Defense University.