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HAGELIN: Practical patriotism for Memorial Day

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Culture challenge of the week: Holiday patriotism

He's a doctor, not a veteran himself. But with his son now serving in the Marine Corps, Samuel sees the world with new eyes.

"Last week, my son's unit lost a soldier. I went on the website for military families and read some of the postings there. The grief is heartbreaking," Samuel said. "If my son were not in the military, I never would have understood. I had no reason to."

It's Memorial Day - a long weekend, ideal for barbecues, yardwork and swimming in the neighborhood pool. American flags provide a perfect theme for parties - red, white and blue paper plates and sprinkled cupcakes. Then it's over.

But it's never over for the families whose loved ones died serving our country. In a sense, every day is a memorial day for them. They never will forget their loved ones and the sacrifices they've made for our freedom.

Neither should we.

That's easier said than done. As Samuel observed, without family members or friends in the military, many Americans have "no reason" to look more deeply at the personal sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families.

Last fall, in a speech at Duke University, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates lamented how detached many Americans have become toward the sacrifices of our military:

"[W]hatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the wars remain an abstraction. A distant and unpleasant series of news items that does not affect them personally. ... [F]or a growing number of Americans, service in the military, no matter how laudable, has become something for other people to do."

He went on to talk about how fewer and fewer Americans have family members, neighbors or friends with military experience. According to one study, he said, about 40 percent of 18-year-olds had a veteran parent in 1988; that number is projected to soon fall below 10 percent.

America is blessed with a strong military, a fighting force built on the courage and selflessness of young Americans. We are blessed as well by the patriotism of military families and the supporters who faithfully stand behind our servicemen and women.

Patriotism, however, cannot be the province of our military alone. And though holiday patriotism - the flags, parades and barbecues - is a wonderful tribute to our military, it's not enough. Honoring our fallen soldiers is more than a matter of remembering. It's a matter of living a practical patriotism in our daily lives.

That's a challenge for all of us this Memorial Day, and beyond.

How to save your family: By living practical patriotism

Patriotism is more than a feeling. It's action.

Try these specific action points with your family:

First, commit to pray daily for our troops and military leadership. I get teary whenever I think of one particular 25-year-old soldier who lost both legs in an IED explosion. He has been fitted with prostheses and is adjusting to his body's new limitations. His spirit is unbroken, but he and his young wife have a tough road ahead of them.

While my tears are heartfelt, my daily prayers for him are more powerful. Imagine the support our troops and their families would experience if every family in the country committed to pray for them daily.

Second, contribute to charities that specifically support our servicemen and women and their families. Two good ones are the Wounded Warrior Project and the USO. If possible, volunteer your time as well.

Third, never miss an opportunity to say thank you to all those who serve our country in dangerous and sacrificial ways.

Fourth, do your own work each day with American pride. Service, determination, professionalism, integrity and respect are ideals for all of us - not just the military.

Finally, as we head into the next election cycle, honor the patriotism and courage of our warriors by electing public officials who will serve with honor and protect the freedoms for which others have died.

Happy Memorial Day!

* Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.

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