Yes, as Americans we're free to make personal choices, thanks to our veterans.
But we must respect the choices of our fellow citizens, too.
That soul-searching message by Sgt. Brian Dasch, Pennsylvania National Guard, highlighted an especially moving "Memorial Day Service for Our Veterans" held Monday at Sky-View Memorial Park Cemetery, 108 Lafayette Ave., Hometown.
The sprawling park along Route 54 is the resting place of over 3,000 fallen heroes.
"Freedom is something we take for granted," said Dasch to 225 in attendance. "We choose where we live and what we eat and where we attend services." And it's perfectly fine to enjoy those freedoms, he said, "as long as we don't impinge on the freedom of others."
Dasch, a 22-year Pa. National Guard member, spoke of the importance of recognizing that others also have the freedom to make choices and those choices might be different from ours.
"Choose your path wisely and carefully and respect the choices of others," he challenged. "This freedom has not been on this earth very long, only a few hundred years."
Dasch said the price we paid for freedom is measured in "the men and women who fought for this country and died defending it."
Military veteran Dale D. Kline welcomed visitors and spoke of the rich history of the Isganitis, Heckman, Messerschmidt Post 973, American Legion, Quakake, which conducted the ceremony and is now in its 65th year. He also spoke about the current dynamics of surviving U.S. veterans.
"Our post was started by World War II veterans," he explained. "And 650 World War II veterans die each day."
In addition, now on the 60th anniversary of the Korean conflict, we're losing 225 to 350 of those veterans each day, as well, Kline said.
Sky-View Memorial Park is now home to 3,094 veterans who gave their all.
"That is why we must never forget," said Kline. "Let us pledge ourselves anew."
Chaplain LTC Jim Greaser, retired, Commander, Tamaqua AMVETS Post 1, offered invocation, benediction and a tribute to Memorial Day.
Greaser reminded guests to keep in mind the fallen and also those who continue to serve or will serve.
"Thank you for the men and women who are willing to give their lives and who gave their lives," Greaser said.
A stirring musical selection of "My Country Tis of Thee" was offered by Kathy Wufsus on vocals and acoustic guitar, accompanied by Michele and Eileen Karlavage. Wufsus later performed solo, closing out the ceremony with "God Bless America."
A salute to the honored dead was offered by the Legion rifle detail comprised of Carmen Forke, Ron Dietrich, Steve Datchko and Ed Sabol, with honor guard Lloyd Herring, sergeant-at-arms, placing a wreath in honor of those who gave their all.
Taps and echo taps were rendered by Jerome Machay.
Those in attendance said the tribute was meaningful and inspiring.
"It makes me feel better," noted Mary Helen Rehatchek, Lake Hauto. "I come here every day."
Rehatchek's husband, Robert, was a U.S. veteran, a paratrooper, who passed away two years ago on Valentine's Day. They would have been married 54 years in June, she said.
The two met during their days at Nesquehoning High School. Since Robert's passing, Rehatchek spends Memorial Day at Sky-View.
"I miss going to the Summit Hill parade," she said, adding that a heart-shaped memorial marker graces her husband's final resting place. "He was my life," said Rehatchek.
The same sentiment is true for U.S. Army veteran Vern Balliet, 90, of Hometown. Balliet served from 1943-46, leaving the Tamaqua by train from the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad passenger station en route to the New Cumberland Army Depot. A proud veteran, Balliet visits Sky-View Memorial Park to honor his beloved wife, who passed away March 6, 2010.
"Yes, I come here," said Balliet, acknowledging that our thoughts of those who left us are especially powerful on Memorial Day.
The reality, of course, is that loss is something that stays with us because we miss our departed every single day.