I’ve been a patriot for as long as I can remember. As a little girl, I was excited for July 4 because I loved that we were the land of the free and the home of the brave. I was known to get misty eyed during the National Anthem, and would wipe the tears from my eyes while the fireworks shot high into the sky.

Back then, I didn’t really understand what Memorial Day was. Odd, since my parents would be among those placing little American Flags on the graves of departed service men and women in the local cemetery each May. To me, the meaning behind Memorial Day was lost. I thought of barbecues and campfires, volleyball games and roasting marshmallows. It was a day of fun and celebration when my siblings and other relatives would come over and sit on the lawn and sip soda and eat watermelon far into the evening. When the sun went down, we would catch the first of the fireflies and put them in jars.

Like the majority of those I know, Memorial Day took on a whole new significance after September 11 and with the beginning of the wars that followed. In 2012, I went to my first Memorial Day parade and service and watched with pride how the fallen soldiers are remembered. When my middle son joined the military, I was once again filled with a sense of patriotism and a desire to honor and support the military.

Living in Kansas City gives me access to the National World War I Museum. Its beautiful location is a fitting scene for veterans’ activities including the Memorial Day remembrances. One year we attended the ceremonies there and it was the first time I saw the Gold Star Mothers being honored. These are women whose children have been killed in the war. Watching the dignity of these women as they sat up on stage was inspiring and heartbreaking. Their stories were told, one by one, of how their children were killed in battle. Gold stars for red blood of precious sons and daughters. For them, and now me, Memorial Day held a new significance.

By God’s grace, my son was not killed in combat. I will never be a Gold Star Mother, and for that I am thankful. But I certainly have a different perspective on what this day is about than I did as a child: It is a day of solemn remembrance out of respect for what has been done on my behalf. Brave, brave young men and women who left home and family to fight for us and for those who could not overcome evil alone. They deserve our homage. They have earned that.

Take time today to attend a Memorial Day parade or ceremony before you bring out the grill and set up the croquet game. Remember those who died that you and I might be free.