Every year on the last Monday in May, Americans recognize the sacrifice of the many, many American servicemen and women who have fought for and died for their country.

The holiday was established in the 1860s – so long ago that its origin has been disputed. It was officially organized into Memorial day in 1968 when Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.

I’ve written in this space before that too many of us look past the meaning of the holiday and instead see it as the first chance to get down to the shore house. More than a moment to recall sacrifice, it’s a time to make sure the grill has enough propane left in the tank.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with using a holiday to take a break, but it’s important to remember those who made sacrifices for the good of their nation.

Not to take anything away from those who served their country, who deserve far more than a single day every year to be “remembered,” but I couldn’t help thinking this Memorial Day of the sacrifice made by two men on a Portland commuter train on Friday, May 26, just as the holiday weekend was about to begin.

For those who may have missed the news, Jeremy Joseph Christian, a 35-year-old white supremacist, killed two white men who attempted to stop Christian for verbally assaulting two young women. Christian, who had targeted the women because of the color of their skin and because he assumed they were Muslim, stabbed and killed Taliesin Myrddin Namakai-Meche, 23, and Rick Best, 53.

Christian also stabbed a third man, Micah Fletcher, in the neck. Fletcher has since recovered and told interviewers he was still trying to make sense of the senseless and gruesome attack.

“I got stabbed in the neck on my way to work, randomly, by a stranger I don’t know, for trying to just be a nice person,” he said. “Like, I don’t know what to do after that, you know.”

There really is no making sense of the attack. Best and Namakai-Meche likely had no idea they were about to die when they stood up to Christian’s assaults. That they did not, however, makes their actions no less heroic. They took a stand to do what was right. Nothing is more American than standing up for this country’s values – the freedom of religious practice and the ideals that all are accepted here.

It should come as no surprise that Best was a veteran who had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a surprise that a man who served his country in two war zones would face his greatest threat on a commuter train while heading home to his wife and four children.

Memorial Day might not be the best time to recall the courageous acts of Best and Namakai-Meche, but their heroism should also be recalled for what it was. So few of us might do the same to defend the rights of our fellow citizens. But without people like Best and Namakai-Meche, our country would not be the one we so often celebrate.

Pete Mazzaccaro