Memorial Day is an odd holiday for me.

When I was a kid, we always looked at it as most families do — as the unofficial start of summer. School was either already out, or almost out. The weather was getting hot or already hot. And I was in full “play” mode.

The Sunday before was usually “Decoration Day,” a Southern tradition that was a huge deal for my family. We would get up early in the morning and travel from my hometown of Anniston, Ala., to near Oneonta, where most of my grandmother’s family was buried. The back of the station wagon would be filled with flowers and food and we would spend several hours decorating the graves and then eating a huge lunch with dozens of family members at a shady picnic spot across from the cemetery. Kickball games and frisbee tosses with cousins were a great way to start summer vacation.

But even though I knew the purpose of the holiday — to honor those who have given their lives defending the freedom that we enjoy — it just wasn’t ever a big deal, because our family never made it a big deal.

I guess that’s because we were highly blessed in that we never had a family member to honor. My dad served during World War II, but came into the Army right at the end and did two tours post-war in the Philippines. I had an uncle who served during the Korean War, but came home. My oldest brother served in Vietnam and saw some combat action, but we were lucky enough to get him back as well. We were never faced with the loss of a loved one to a conflict.

But as I have gotten older, I have come more and more to appreciate just how important this holiday is. While I did not serve myself and have not personally known anyone who was killed in combat, I recognize that Memorial Day is deeply personal to so many people. It is much more than BBQ’s and get-aways, lake trips and good times. It is a day when we should all take a few moments and reflect on the sacrifice that so many have made so that we may enjoy the freedoms that we do in this country. Yes, it’s a cliche, but freedom is not free.

This really hit home to me a couple of weeks ago, when my son Grant and I went to Washington. D.C. on a class trip. The shot below is of the Iwo Jima Memorial, which depicts the raising of the flag on Mt. Suribachi after five days of bloody and gruesome battle. It’s a stark reminder both of the great blessing of liberty that we have in the United States, and the price that has been paid for it.

So I hope that everyone has a great Memorial Day and makes the same great memories that have flooded my mind this weekend. But while you are doing that, take a moment, remember and say a prayer of thanks. We owe it to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.