By Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman

For many Americans, Memorial Day is a time to visit the graves of loved ones, bringing flowers and wreaths as a symbol of remembrance. This tradition is a reminder while these friends and family members are no longer here; they are always with us in spirit.

Memorial Day is a time to remember all of those we’ve lost, and it’s a special day set aside to honor those who gave their lives in service to our nation.

First and foremost, Memorial Day is a time to remember the brave men and women of our armed forces, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice so that future generations of Americans can live in freedom. We lower our flags in their honor, and we pay tribute to those who serve our state and nation today.

Those who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Reserves and our National Guard know the sacrifice that comes with defending liberty and fighting for freedom.

During the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of taking part in ceremonies in several Nebraska communities honoring the service of our nation’s veterans. I know that at dozens of cemeteries around our state, honor guards, veterans and their families will gather to pay tribute to those who have served our nation with honor.

While many families have a tradition of returning to their home town each year during this weekend, many members of the Nebraska’s National Guard have spent at least one Memorial Day overseas during the past few years. This year, we can be especially grateful that so many of our troops will spend this weekend at home.

The Nebraska National Guard has played an active role in carrying out military missions since 2001. Several Nebraska Guard units were activated in the months following 9/11, with regular deployments during the next few years. During 2005 and 2006 in particular, more Nebraska units were called up for missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, some lasting nearly two years.

After so many departures, it was a welcome change to see these heroes return home. Several hundred soldiers and airmen returned from deployments in 2007, and in the last three weeks, we nearly 200 more have return from missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members of Team Spartan and the 600th Transportation Company were two of the last Nebraska units still serving overseas.

Today, there are nearly 100 Nebraska Guard personnel involved in international missions.

With the changing role of the National Guard, there may be a need for other units to deploy in the future, but we are grateful today that so many of our soldiers and airmen have the opportunity to be back at their day jobs, and more importantly, back home with their families.

This year, Nebraskans have the opportunity to express our thanks in person to the more than 4,600 members of the Nebraska National Guard and the enlisted personnel stationed at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, and to tell the thousands of veterans in communities all across our state how grateful we are for their service.

On behalf of all Nebraskans, I salute the many heroes who have served our country with honor for more than two centuries.

The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.