Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer. While most people see it as a way to relax, unwind and cookout with friends and family, enjoying the first full days of warmth and sunshine, the meaning behind the long weekend is a much more somber, not to mention grateful, one. Monday is a day to remember those who have fought and died for our freedom, and no other format of music pays tribute to these fallen soldiers, firefighters and police officers more than country music. A few of your favorite country artists weigh in on the importance of the day.

"Memorial Day is one of my favorite times of year, along with Veteran's Day," says Rascal Flatts' Jay DeMarcus. "I'm a huge history buff, and I have the utmost respect for the military and the price that they have paid for us, and continue to pay for us, to enjoy the freedoms that we do today. All too often, we go about our lives here in America taking things for granted that have been paid for in blood by so many people that have come before us. I hope that we never get to the point to where we're so complacent that we forget those people that are over there putting their lives on the line for us day in and day out."

"Memorial Day has always meant something special to me," adds Rascal Flatts' Gary LeVox, who has friends and relatives who served in the Armed Forces. "We went to Iraq in 2005 and it really changed all three of our lives. You never know the price of freedom until you stand in the middle of a combat zone in a foreign country with 18- and 19-year-old kids who are absolute studs. They are the true root of what red, white and blue means, and that's something that I'll never forget. So, from that day on, Memorial Day meant even more to me."

Carrie Underwood understands what it means to have the freedom to pursue your hopes and dreams. "America really is the land of opportunity," the Oklahoma native says. "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."

While many folks think Toby Keith bangs the war drum, he's actually doesn't like it very much. However, he is a major supporter of the troops, and he does nearly everything he can to help and entertain them. "I'm anti-war, but if you have to go fight, then you've got to go in gung-ho and protect as many of us as you can," explains the singer-songwriter, who recently returned from his ninth tour overseas entertaining troops. "War is an ugly deal, and it can't be fought 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. It's bloody -- women die, children die, men die, daughters, sons, mothers. It's an ugly thing. I wish we didn't have to go to war."

When asked to send a message to the troops overseas, Montgomery Gentry's Eddie Montgomery wanted to thank them and their families for allowing us the freedom to do what we want to do. "One thing I want to let them know is that we love all of them to death, and their families," he says. "We want to thank their families for letting them protect us. [And thank them for letting us] 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. We definitely can't wait until this war is over and they can come home, and we throw a hell of a party for them."

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Kellie Pickler has been on several trips overseas to entertain U.S. troops, and she has witnessed the dedication and sacrifice of the men and women. "I've been so blessed to work a lot with the USO and travel overseas to Afghanistan and Iraq and Kosovo and all kinds of other military bases. I've been able to go over there and see firsthand just exactly what they're doing," she notes. "It takes a very special person to sacrifice everything. When I say 'everything,' I don't mean just their time, I mean their life. Everything! Their family, their kids, their loved ones. You sacrifice every thing to put your life on the line for us, and it's such a great, honorable, heroic thing. This weekend's very special, and we have to raise our glass to them and keep them all in our prayers and always say 'thank you.'"

Craig Morgan was in the Army and 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 82 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. "The most important thing people need to remember [is] all of those men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice," he says. "We are here to remember. This country was established and built on that sacrifice: the blood that's been shed and will continue to be shed. Fortunately for us, we live in a country where a very minute portion of people are willing to do that. Only one-percent of the people in this country serve in the military, so we need to remember that one-percent that day. That's the people that we celebrate on Memorial Day."

Jamey Johnson served eight years as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. "Everybody has the common background of what it's like to be an American," the singer-songwriter explains. "It's the root of country people that runs deep in both the military, and especially in country music. We're all 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."

As a child, Jack Ingram always enjoyed Memorial Day weekend, which meant barbecues and Roman Candle wars. It also meant neighbors putting up flags in memory of the soldiers who died. "The part I love about Memorial Day is, especially when I was living in Dallas, getting up in the morning on Memorial Day and going outside and seeing the flags," recalls the Texas native. "Today, a lot of people are so cynical and lose sight of that, and might not even know what Memorial Day is all about. 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, 'I know it might be old school, but it's time to recognize the people who have come before us and fought for these freedoms.' That has always taken 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, but let's take a moment to say thanks, and remember what happened and why we're here.'"

Following the tragic events of 9/11, Martina McBride was certainly proud of how Americans reacted in the fallout. "I felt pride that we all did come together, and that we all as a nation are helping each other through this difficult time ... and how resilient we are, and the knowledge that we will get through this," she says. "Who knows what the long term effects will be on us, on our psyche, as a nation and as a people."

Alan Jackson, who wrote 'Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)' following 9/11, recalls where he was when it happened. "I was at home in Franklin at our house," he remembers. "I was outside ... and it was a pretty day. I came in and it was on the television. That first building had already been hit, and the second one hadn't yet. I was like most people, just shocked, like it wasn't real. It seemed like it was a movie or something. It was devastating and sick feeling, and I'm sure, like most people felt, it was just unreal."

Gary Allan remembers exactly where he was on 9/11. "I had come out of Switzerland and was supposed to play a show in London and leave the next day," he says. "What a terrible thing to be locked out of your country, so to speak, when it's going to war. Everybody knows if you're going to war, you want to be home. I wasn't able to get out until the following Saturday."

Trisha Yearwood cites her husband Garth Brooks' song, 'We Shall Be Free,' as one that has helped her since September 11, 2001. The song, which was written several years before, is even more relevant than now. "Ever since September 11th, 'We Shall Be Free' has been playing in my mind," says Trisha. "As much as it's a timeless song, it's appropriate all the time, it's so much more appropriate now. The lyrics mean something even more powerful today."

Kris Kristofferson joined the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of Captain (in the '60s). He became a helicopter pilot and was stationed in West Germany. In 1965, he resigned his commission to pursue songwriting. He followed in the footsteps of his father, who was an Air Force major general.

Josh Gracin is a former Marine stationed in San Diego and was honorably discharged in 2004.

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.

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