Cameron Smith served three tours in Iraq as a U.S. Marine captain and is the director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Memorial Day is at once a day to honor the fallen in our nation’s wars and the unofficial start of the summer season when we fire up the barbecues and enjoy our rivers, lakes and beaches.

Many veterans and military families voice frustration at this dichotomy and the dilution of Memorial Day. In the lead up to the last Monday in May, we will see many articles, editorial cartoons, blog posts and Twitter feeds urging us all to remember the real meaning of Memorial Day.

I join them here in highlighting the true cost of war — a cost far beyond dollars and cents. In Iraq and Afghanistan alone, we have lost more than 6,000 of America’s best men and women — 138 were from Oregon. We owe them and their families a debt that can never be repaid.

But I also worry that our pointed effort on Memorial Day to remember the legacy of those lost will not bridge the civilian-military cultural divide. World War II was fought by 10 percent of our citizens, affecting a large segment of the population. Today, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by less than 1 percent of our population.

Even for those of us who work closely with veterans, it is disconcertingly easy to go about our everyday lives forgetting that thousands are still deployed overseas in harm’s way. We must all go beyond a day and recommit to building the critical relationship between our citizens, military families and veterans.

Sharing our stories and experiences is not always easy, but it is essential as we ramp up and sustain community support for our veterans. Ultimately, our efforts are not simply for the troops. The bond between a nation and its veterans is about our way of life that the military defends and that we all actively create and cherish: a democratic nation, full of freedom, with justice and opportunity for all.

As we honor the fallen on Memorial Day this year, let us take to heart the symbolism in the flag code. The flag will be flown half-mast from sunrise until noon when it will then be flown at the peak until sunset. Flying the flag first at half-mast is to honor all those who have given their lives in the service of our nation. It is then flown high to show that the nation they defended lives on.

What began as Decoration Day in May 1868, when flowers were laid on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery, continues to have an even greater significance today as we remember the fallen on Memorial Day.

We must continue to share the stories of our military’s service and most importantly share the stories of all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you for all of your support for our veterans and God Bless all those still serving around the world.

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