CAMDEN, New Jersey (WPVI) -- For some people, the true meaning of Memorial Day can get lost in a flurry of barbecues and beach trips. But families who have lost a loved one in service are always mindful of what this day really means.
"I say to people, 'Please don't say Happy Memorial Day.' You wouldn't say 'Happy Pearl Harbor,'" said Melinda Kane. "It is a solemn, solemn, day."
Kane knows because of the loss she feels as a Gold Star Mother. Gold Star Families are those who have lost a loved one in military service.
"My life changed in January of 2010 when my oldest son Jeremy was killed in Afghanistan," Kane said, adding that her husband had passed away just a year and a half earlier. "(Jeremy) was killed in the Helmand Province stopping a suicide bomber."
Jeremy was only 22 years old, but he'd achieved his lifelong dream.
"He was incredibly proud to be a Marine. There's nothing more in the world that he wanted. But he also wanted to come home alive," said Kane. "He knew how difficult it would be for his family and yet he was determined and we accepted that."
What's harder to accept is life without him.
"Life goes on, but there's always that horrible, aching pain," said Kane. " I watch his friends get married and have children. He never had that. He never will, and he deserved a full life."
When Jeremy's life ended, though, his mother's new life began.
"This is the gift that Jeremy has left me," she said of her urge to begin a career in public service.
Kane now serves as a Camden County Commissioner. She uses her platform to speak up for military families and veterans.
"I thank Jeremy every minute of every day for my new life," she said. "I would give anything to have my old life back, but my new life is rich."
Kane is one of the dozens of people who volunteer every year across Camden to place flags on the graves of veterans.
"This is an important community event for us to do to respect and honor those who served," said Retired Army Lt. Col Vince Ross, who is now a JROTC instructor at Camden High School.
Ross brought out his students to help put flags on the graves of veterans at Harleigh Cemetery ahead of Memorial Day.
"In the county, we have flagged 30,000 graves," said Kane, adding that she feels proud both as a Camden County commissioner and as a Gold Star Mother.
Each grave is adorned with a flag, knowing that the sites are final resting places of heroes that this Gold Star Mother will make sure are never forgotten.
"It's really hard," she said, "because every day is our Memorial Day."