I'm not certain we as a nation have a full appreciation of the meaning of Memorial Day and the other annual patriotic observances and celebrations.

When we observed these on the same specific date every year, the purpose seemed much more apparent than it is today. Since many of the observances were moved to enable us to have three-day weekends - often under the pressure of commercial interests - they lost some of their previous impact.

However, in my opinion, the greatest negative impact comes from a lack of understanding and appreciation for the history of our country. I've heard it said that the history of the world is the history of war. That's more factual than it should be.

But if we don't study history in light of the accepted behavior and social climate when it occurred, we are likely to do what we are doing today - examining (and evaluating) history in light of what is considered acceptable today.

We gained independence from England through a violent war that was by no measure universally accepted by our citizens. We had to fight another war with England a few decades later that had far more acceptance and solidified our national status, but in another four decades, we were fighting each other over economics, states' rights and slavery.

Actually, nearly every war that's ever been fought has a strong element of economics as one of the major causes.

We finished the 19th century with a few more jingoistic wars against Mexico and Spain. Unfortunately, the 20th century included two world wars, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. And so far this century, we seem to have been in a constant state of conflict somewhere in the world - mostly against an enemy that is difficult to limit to one nation or one location.

One constant up to World War II was the recognition and respect for the military forces and their sacrifices. Beginning with Korea, termed The Forgotten War, that respect started to wane and disrespect peaked during the war in Vietnam turning to outright hostility against the military and the government. Actually, the government deserved it; the military did not.

We are now in the midst of a global war on terror; one that will likely continue for the rest of our lives or the nation's life for that matter.

When hundreds of casualties were reported every day or every week, all the country was aware, understood and felt a sense of loss. Now that it's down to several men and women over a few weeks, it's almost a footnote in the news.

There are still fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters dying in service to the United States all over the world. And whether it's in a training accident or direct combat, it should still be a loss to all of us, not just the grieving families.

And not just to the thousands of military veterans and family members who attend the Memorial Day observances and ceremonies and whose numbers will eventually dwindle as we slowly forget or ignore our history.

It should be more than just the Monday of a three-day weekend.

That's how I see it.