It's Memorial Day Weekend, and most people have the day off and are firing up the grill for the unofficial kickoff to summer. School vacation begins for many students and teachers, the Indianapolis 500 is held every year and many folks are remembering the importance of this day -- the people who died serving the United States giving everyone the freedom to pursue their dreams.

Memorial Day commemorates U.S. men and women who died while serving in the military. Formerly known as Decoration Day, the observance of the holiday began in 1865 in the mind of Henry Welles, a druggist in Waterloo, New York, who wanted to honor the memory of those who died in the Civil War.

A handful of country artists served in the military, including Kris Kristofferson, who joined the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of Captain in the '60s. He became a helicopter pilot after receiving flight training and was stationed in West Germany. In 1965, he resigned his commission to pursue songwriting. The tunesmith's father was an Air Force major general.



Craig Morgan
was in the Army and was at one time stationed in South Korea. He was in combat as part of Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989. He spent 10 years on active duty in the U.S., serving in the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. In addition to his regular tour dates, Craig frequently performs at military bases both in the U.S. and abroad. He was awarded the 2006 USO Merit Award for his tireless support of U.S. soldiers and their families.

George Strait enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1971. While stationed in Hawaii as a part of the 25th Infantry Division, he began performing with an Army-sponsored band, Rambling Country. King George was honorably discharged from the Army in 1975.

James Otto was born on the Fort Lewis Army Base in Washington and moved around most of his childhood. After graduating high school, James joined the United States Navy, where he served two years.

Josh Gracin is a former Marine, and while he was stationed in San Diego, he was a contestant on 'American Idol.' He was honorably discharged in 2004.

Jamey Johnson, who served eight years as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, draws a comparison between country music and the military. "I think everybody has the common background of just what it's like to be an American," says Jamey. "I think it's the root of country people that run deep in both the military and especially in country music. We're all kind of on the same team. There's nobody that appreciates freedom nearly as much as the man or woman ready to go overseas and fight for it. We tend to write songs that are about the roots of American society, [but] it's still entertaining."

Carrie Underwood understands what it means to have freedom to pursue your hopes and dreams. "America really is the land of opportunity," explains Carrie. "It's the only place in the world where you could try out for some show and win amongst hundreds of thousands of people and go on to do great things. I mean, it's just the land of anything can happen. The people in it is what makes it great."

Montgomery Gentry's Eddie Montgomery has a lot of gratitude for the men and women in uniform and their families. "One thing I want to let them know is that we love all of them to death," states Eddie. "And their families, we want to thank them for letting them protect us and be and say and do whatever we want to in this great country, because that is why this is the greatest country in the world."

As a child, Jack Ingram always enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend, which meant barbecues and roman candle wars. It also meant neighbors putting up flags in memory of the soldiers who died. "I remember up to a few years ago, getting up in the morning on Memorial Day and going outside and seeing the flags," recalls the Texas native. "If you take the time to look at how many of those flags are hanging outside of those houses, somebody in that family, somebody in that house took the time to say, 'You know what? I know it might be old school, but it's time to recognize the people that have come before us and fought for these freedoms.' That has always touched me, as a younger guy, and made me realize the same thing --

'Yeah, man, partying and roman candle wars on Memorial Day, that's all fine and good, and let's take a moment to say thanks and remember what happened and why we're here.'"

While many folks think Toby Keith bangs the war drum, he's actually against the war itself. But he is a major supporter of the troops and does nearly everything he can to help them and entertain them. In fact, Toby has been traveling overseas since 2002 and played 145 USO shows. "I'm anti-war, but if you have to go fight, then I think you've got to go in gung-ho and protect as many of us as you can," states Toby. "But war is an ugly deal, and it can't be fought from as sterile as they made the Gulf War look like it was -- all you do is fly planes over and hit key targets and move them out. It's not that nice, man. It's bloody -- women die, children die, men die, daughters, sons, mothers, all that. It's an ugly thing."