The earliest memories of my father, the late Dr. Mitchel Denham, were of him walking the floor at night because he could not forget the atrocities and horror he witnessed in World War II.

Like many, Dad refused to talk about the war; however, each Memorial Day, we would visit not only our family members’ graves, but also those of fallen soldiers from this area he had known during the war. This forever instilled in us, his children, a duty to honor and pay tribute to those who gave the supreme sacrifice so America could “secure the blessings of liberty.”

On Monday, our nation will pause as it has for more than 150 years to remember and thank those courageous men and women who gave their lives to protect our freedom. As President Lincoln said in the Gettysburg address, it is “altogether fitting and proper that we do this.”

Memorial Day began in the wake of the Civil War, when ceremonies were held to decorate the graves of those who had died in battle. In fact, Decoration Day is what the holiday was first called. Memorial Day was first proclaimed on May 5, 1868, and was made a national holiday in 1971.

Since the Revolutionary War, more than 42 million people have served our country in uniform, of which more than 1.3 million paid the ultimate sacrifice. Another 1.5 million were wounded. Think of the sacrifices our soldiers made at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Flanders Field, Pearl Harbor, Normandy, Inchon Bay, Saigon, Baghdad and Kabul.

Kentucky has a long history of going above and beyond to answer the call of duty. Our state, in fact, saw more soldiers die than every other state combined during the War of 1812.

Kentucky is home to more than 331,000 veterans. More than 3,000 veterans lives in Bracken, Fleming, Mason and Robertson counties, which I am proud to serve in the Kentucky House. These men and women are our neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives. Their service spans decades, multiple conflicts and a variety of duties. They have all contributed to the peace and freedom we enjoy today.

If you are a veteran or are still serving, I want to take this opportunity to thank you and say how grateful we are as a nation for your sacrifice. Whether you served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq or Afghanistan or protected us here at home, know that you are appreciated. If it were not for our men and women in uniform, we would not be living in a country that offers so much to so many.

Our region has had many patriots who have served, fought and given their lives so “this nation might live.” Their names are memorialized in perpetuity at our courthouses, parks and other locations.

It is our duty to honor and pay tribute not only on Memorial Day but every day with our thoughts, presence and prayers for the sacrifices made by these patriots, both here and across the country.

I encourage you to attend a Memorial Day event, but if you cannot, please take a moment to say a blessing for those who were – and who are – willing to stand and be counted when it counted most. God bless our patriots, and God bless the United States of America.