(BPT) - 'Expressions of patriotic enthusiasm are as bright and thrilling as fireworks, but they dissipate as quickly,' Washington Post blogger Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in a July 2014 examination of patriotism among American youth. Yet most Americans consider themselves patriotic, even if their definitions of the term vary slightly or even greatly, multiple surveys show. While politicians and political parties may be satisfied with fireworks and rhetoric, average Americans seek meaningful ways to show their love for their country, such as supporting veterans and active-duty service members.
With Memorial Day kicking off the start of summer and its many patriotic celebrations, including Military Appreciation Month throughout May, here are five ways you can show your patriotism and make a difference at the same time:
1. Support veterans and active-duty military.
Taking care of the people who serve our country is an important way to show patriotism. You can show your support in many ways, from hiring veterans if you're a small-business owner to participating in business initiatives and organizations that help active-duty service people and veterans. Plenty of organizations can help you show your support.
'As a veteran, I've seen firsthand the value of community support for members of the military,' says Preston Funkhouser, facility services project manager for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. Funkhouser served in Saudi Arabia, in Iraq in support of operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn, and in Kosovo. 'We've hired thousands of veterans in various positions throughout our company, and we have supported organizations like the USO, the National Military Families Association and Wounded Warriors that lift up our servicemen, servicewomen and veterans.'
Showing support can be as simple as visiting with a veteran in your neighborhood, putting together a care package for someone serving overseas, or making a purchase from a merchant who donates a portion of the proceeds to a military support organization. You can find a comprehensive list of support organizations online at www.military.com.
Despite the concept of a participatory government being a fundamental tenet of America, recent voter turnout in this country has been historically low. In 2014, it was the lowest since World War II; about 36 percent of Americans eligible to vote did so, according to the United States Election Project. Yet in a Fox News poll, 93 percent of respondents said they believed voting was a patriotic thing to do.
Turnout is usually higher in years with a presidential race, but don't just wait for a big election. Vote in your municipal, school district, county and state elections, too. Take your children with you so they learn about the process and the importance of voting. It's the American thing to do.
3. Fly the flag - the right way.
Three patriotic holidays occur in the summer: Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day. It's a perfect time to begin displaying the flag - and turn it into a year-round habit. 'Displaying the flag is a wonderful way to show respect for our country and for everyone who has defended it throughout our history,' says Funkhouser. 'All 634 of our Cracker Barrel stores display an American Flag beside the fireplace and have free brochures at the cashier counter on how to properly display the American Flag.'
There are right ways - and wrong ways - to display the flag. For example, illuminate the flag at night if you'll be displaying it 'round-the-clock, but never hang it with the union - the blue and white stars field - downward; that's a signal of distress. Read the federal Flag Code for more information on the proper way to display the flag.
4. Visit and support a national park.
The National Parks Service protects many of the country's greatest natural and historic treasures - and they're available for the enjoyment of everyone. Many national park and historic sites are free, but some do charge admission. When you pay your admission fee or make a voluntary donation, you're helping the National Park service continue to preserve America's cultural and natural history.
The wide variety of sites and locations means virtually every American is within a reasonable drive of a National Park site. Whether you're looking for a day trip or a week-long family vacation, you can find a National Park location that will provide a fun, educational and patriotic experience.
Patriotism doesn't have to be something that burns brief and bright, and then fades until next summer. Meaningful acts of patriotism, like supporting members of the armed forces, can shine throughout the year.
5. Participate in The Four-Star Salute.
Check out the online charity auction, www.FourStarSalute.org,to purchase great items and packages with 100 percent of the proceeds benefitting military families. The auction runs from May 11 through Memorial Day in honor of Military Appreciation Month with all proceeds benefitting the USO (United Service Organizations).