Years ago I was having an online chat with a friend of mine who'd served a long career for the United States military before the collective weight of physical and emotional scars he'd received forced him into retirement.
I asked him, that night, what had made him do so much and give so much. I asked him what made it all worth it. I asked him why he did it. His simple response was, "so that you have a safe and happy life." Although he did mean me specifically he mostly meant me in a general sense, as in people like me, non-combatant type people. People he felt were worth keeping safe.
I was grateful at that moment that we were talking via computer, so he couldn't see the way I started to cry. I'm not worth so much was all I could think. The "thank you," I managed to say didn't even begin to cover it.
I think of that conversation often, not just on Memorial Day or Veterans Day or the Fourth of July, but particularly on days like those. One way I can say thank you to the men and women willing to give so much, sometimes to give everything, is to try to live my life in a way that honors those sacrifices. I can aspire to be and do something that's worth fighting and dying for. It's not enough, it's never enough, but it's what I owe and what I can give.