Visitors pause to look for names on the wall at the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial early Monday morning in Washington. Credit: J. David Ake / AP

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James Jay Carafano is a Heritage Foundation vice president and is director of the think tank’s research in matters of national security and foreign affairs. He wrote this for

The more we make Memorial Day about remembering our fallen warriors, the better off we are as Americans. And the day after Memorial Day, there are many steps we as thankful Americans can take to honor the service and sacrifice of those who have so selflessly served us.

It’s important to realize that, in every war in our nation’s history — from Bunker Hill to Baghdad — the majority of those who took up arms were volunteers. Sure, there were conscripted soldiers and draftees in the Civil War, both world wars, Korea and Vietnam. But even in those conflicts, most of the fighting, bleeding and dying was done by those who chose to put on a uniform.

How amazing is that? That there have always been so many willing to fight and die to ensure the rest of us can live in freedom, peace and prosperity. The nobility of their sacrifice, regardless of the war or terms of service, deserves our prayerful thanks. It not only affirms who they were; it is a validation of who we are: a nation worth fighting for.

In recent years, many worried that America was forgetting the true purpose of Memorial Day, succumbing to distractions like “blowout” car and furniture sales or prepping for the big cookout. Today, however, there are bigger things to worry about.

Identity politics and vicious partisanship threatens to divide us as a nation. Our shared culture is becoming a shared “cancel culture.” No issue seems too trivial for the exchange of woke and anti-woke barbs and accusations. In that toxic environment, it can be tempting to try to turn Memorial Day into a trope for whatever cause you wish to attack or promote.

Don’t. It would be wrong.

There can be no other respectful purpose for this day than remembrance of those who fell standing up for us, no matter who we are and what our politics, predilections, hair color or social media preferences.

We can all get back to slinging mud at each other the day after, if that’s what you want. After all, that’s part of what soldiers fight and die for: the right of Americans to use their freedoms to squabble endlessly over how to express their freedoms.

Of course, there’s a more constructive way to extend the observance of Memorial Day: serving those who served and those they left behind.

Too often we forget that latter group. On average, every military death profoundly affects at least a dozen others — a spouse, children, extended family, friends, co-workers. We can continue to honor the fallen by doing what they can no longer do: look after the ones they love.

In every community in America there are opportunities to serve the families of America’s armed forces, especially the families of the fallen. Here are three worthy organizations that can always use a helping hand.

Since 1994, TAPS — the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors — has provided a national peer support network that connects mourning families to grief resources. At no cost to surviving families and loved ones, TAPS gives these folks comfort and hope, helping them heal, recover and remember. TAPS and their volunteers have earned the love and praise of untold families by helping make the unbearable bearable.

Then there is the Gary Sinise Foundation. Yes — Lieutenant Dan from “Forrest Gump.” There are no bounds to Gary’s love and respect of military members and their families. His foundation is an incredible font of love and respect for our military.

Less well known is the Special Operation Warrior Foundation. Its mission: to help every child of every fallen warrior who wants to go to a good college. It may sound like mission impossible, yet somehow the foundation always seems to find a way and the resources to make that happen.

There are other worthy groups as well, and many individuals who take extraordinary steps to give back. Every American has an opportunity to be one of them. If you’re interested in building up America rather than tearing it and each other down, here is one worthy way to make a difference.