It’s Memorial Day today and, for many, this last Monday in May is set aside for watersports, time with the family or simply shopping. In short, it is a welcome day of vacation. While Americans have been honoring those who have given their lives in battle since May of 1868 shortly after the end of the Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in our history, in recent decades it has lost its solemn sheen.

Like many men and women of my generation, I served our country in the military during World War II. I did so willingly and without gripe or fuss, spending most of my time in a submarine in both the Atlantic and Pacific. I was young and I learned many good things in the military such as being on time and learning every bit of my duties. I had to because on a submarine you don’t get a second chance.

Anyone who has been in battle will tell you that war is never to be taken lightly. Nor should the fact that each man (or woman) in combat risks losing their life, and they are well aware of this fact. This reality does not change whether the war is labeled just and with full support of the country or not. I doubt any of that makes a bit of difference either to the family grieving over the loss of a son, daughter, husband, wife, father or mother.

In March 2012, the United States marked its tenth year of having our military men and women deployed in combat in the Middle East in the War on Terror. Although the deaths and casualties our country has suffered during the past decade pale in comparison with the bloodshed of both World Wars and our own Civil War. But even that is beside the point. How many millions of men and women must die in the name of democracy and freedom for everyone to sit up, take notice and think seriously about the significance of Memorial Day?

I was a member of the U.S. Senate when the National Holiday Act of 1971 was passed, turning all such days into long weekends with Monday holidays. Some say that this act contributed to our drift away from the more sobering remembrance of those we memorialize for their patriotic sacrifice. It would be a shame if we let a change in date distract us from considering the price paid by so many on our behalf.

Any day of the week we can consider how giving of ourselves to the community around us – with time and energy, not blood – can make a significant impact on individual lives. We could, in some small yet significant way, help build a community that can prevent the unnecessary loss of lives. My life of service might have begun in the U.S. Navy, but it continues to this day with my active support of Goodwill Industries and many other human services. I know it makes a difference.

If you have plans to barbecue in the backyard, watch TV or head to the beach, there is no reason not to enjoy your day off. In fact, I recommend it. I live in Plymouth Harbor and our entire community – residents, staff and families of both – gather for a barbecue right on Sarasota Bay. You can bet we will be enjoying tasty food and lively conversation, but I intend to reflect on the sacrifices that made this holiday, Memorial Day, necessary.

In a moment of quiet sometime during your day, I encourage you to ask yourself a couple questions.

· If you had the opportunity to thank someone who gave their life in battle, what would you say?

· If you had the opportunity to have walked in their shoes and seen the fruits of battle, would you feel proud and appreciated for what you had sacrificed for your country?

· Without risking your life, what could you do and how proud might you feel to give even more back to the community around you?

The preceding Guest Editorial was published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on Memorial Day of 2012.  It was written by Plymouth Harbor resident, Senator Marlow Cook who represented the state of Kentucky in the U.S. Senate and served in the Navy during World War II.