Long weekends are always nice. I love having a little extra time to run, hike, read or just hang out with the people I love.

Most people — myself included — look forward to Memorial Day for reasons like these. Some attend barbecues or go camping; others try their luck with a fishing rod.

But amidst all of the normal holiday-weekend activity I observed this past Monday, I was proud to also observe many Missoula residents celebrating Memorial Day as it was intended to be celebrated: by honoring fallen loved ones, especially those who died serving their country.

As if on cue, the rain that fell steadily throughout most of the holiday weekend let up just in time for the formal Memorial Day ceremonies planned at the courthouse and in Caras Park.

Of those who did not attend an organized gathering, many paid tribute in other ways, both privately and publicly. Facebook was abuzz with status updates and photo posts expressing gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice that has been made by so many of our men and women in uniform.

As I made my way through the streets of Missoula, I smiled at the sight of several American flags waving gently in the afternoon breeze.

When I drove past the cemetery near my neighborhood, it was full of people who had come to pay their respects with bright bouquets of flowers and shiny red-white-and-blue ribbons.

With that scene in front of me, I paused for a moment to reflect on the true significance of Memorial Day and to give thanks for the brave souls who have fought and died for America.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.