For a lot of people, the Memorial Day weekend represents the unofficial start of summer.

It's a great opportunity to enjoy a three- or four-day weekend, to work in the garden, to get out the lawn furniture, to put the boat in the lake, to have a picnic, or to watch the Indy 500 auto race.

But Memorial Day weekend holds a deeper, more serious, more significant meaning.

It is a time to remember those who have died for their country -- from the Revolutionary War to the current conflict in Afghanistan.

It is a time to pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to help protect the freedom and way of life we cherish in the United States.

It is a time to be thankful for the individual liberties we often take for granted -- and to offer our gratitude to those who have helped ensure their preservation.

There are many Americans who abhor war, and the country has always been at least somewhat divided over U.S. involvement in each of its foreign conflicts.

But the men and women in uniform do not make the political decisions that lead to war. They simply and courageously answer the call when they are needed.

Those individuals who serve the U.S. do so bravely and selflessly, and those who have died while fighting for their country and its principles deserve to be remembered with respect and appreciation.

There are many ways to pay tribute to fallen American soldiers.

Most communities throughout Connecticut and across the country hold Memorial Day events -- parades, ceremonies, townwide gatherings -- on Memorial Day (the final Monday of May) or the weekend that precedes it.

In Greater New Milford, there will be nine Memorial Day parades over the long weekend to commemorate the occasion.

On Sunday, Warren and Sherman will hold their annual ceremonies and parades.

On Monday, there will be two parades in New Milford -- one in the Gaylordsville section of town at 8 a.m. and the biggest area parade in downtown New Milford at 10 a.m.

There will be two parades in Washington as well, one stepping off at 1:30 in the New Preston part of town and one at 2:30 in Washington Depot, while the towns of Bridgewater, Roxbury and Kent will hold their parades on Monday morning.

We encourage townspeople throughout the area to attend their local parade.

For those who can't or choose not to go to a parade, there are other meaningful ways to celebrate Memorial Day and remember fallen veterans -- from visiting a cemetery and placing flowers on the gravesite of a veteran to flying an American flag, or simply pausing for a private moment of silence in memory of those who have died in the service of their country.

And while Memorial Day is a day to pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, it is also a good time to say "thank you" to all those who wear or have worn the uniform as members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Indeed, we all owe a debt of thanks to the men and women who have helped keep this country safe and allowed us to enjoy our special way of life as Americans.