This is a story about Memorial Day -- and about what to do to mark it if you're among the vast majority of Americans who are fortunate enough not to have lost any friends or family in the military.

Twice each year I see a sudden spike in people trying to remember the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the two military related holidays we celebrate in the United States.

I get it. If you're not involved in the military it's hard to keep them straight. So here's the difference plus an idea -- something easy that I think will make you feel proud and happy, especially since we're living during one of the most divided times in American history.

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, which is dedicated to the memory of every person who gave his or her life in defense of the United States during our nation's wars. 

It has its origins in what used to be called Decoration Day, first celebrated in 1868, which was dedicated to celebrate the lives of Union soldiers killed in the Civil War.

By the end of World War II, however, the day's meaning was broadened to reflect all of those who gave their lives for the United States in any war. The official name of the holiday was changed in 1967.

Veterans Day

Veterans Day, which is celebrated on November 11, has its origins as a day celebrating the end of World War I. However, it is now dedicated to honoring everyone who has served honorably in the U.S. military at any time.

It doesn't matter if you served during wartime or saw combat; simply enlisting and taking the oath of office counts.

As a result, Veterans Day is the more far-reaching holiday, given the sheer number of people who have served in the U.S. military. (It's roughly 7 percent of the U.S. population, so we're talking about millions of people.)

'Thank you for your service'

I know a lot of veterans who are proud to have served and who have great respect for their fellow veterans. They love their country. But some of them have a pretty wry outlook on they way civilians (and corporations) express their gratitude for their service. 

I think it's a combination of being grateful for the spirit in which it's intended, but also embarrassment at how ham-handed it can be sometimes.

"Thank you for your service, here's a 10 percent discount off a small soda with purchase of any meal deal." 

Or else, "I didn't serve myself, but I support the troops, as demonstrated by this garish t-shirt with a giant American flag on it."

But I think we all want to do something more.

Reach out

It's awfully hard to be wry or sardonic when it comes to Memorial Day, of course. 

However, since it coincides with the "unofficial start of summer, if you want to do something appropriate to honor fallen service members on Memorial Day, I have a few ideas.

Perhaps it's not practical to visit a cemetery. But if you're a praying person, today would be an excellent time to offer a prayer for both those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and for the family and friends they left behind.

I also think that given how incredibly divided our country is, it would be a worthy tribute to reach out to people with whom you know you disagree vehemently on political issues, and find a way to offer a fleeting, temporary olive branch.

It can be as easy as a quick text message saying you're thinking of them and you hope they're having a great weekend. 

Because if you had a loved one who died in the service of our country, and you saw that country being torn apart by divisive rhetoric, it might be heartening to see a small sign of your fellow citizens doing something easy to repair it -- even just a little bit.

And I think it will make you feel just a bit happier and prouder for having made the effort.

As always, my columns each year about Memorial Day and Veterans Day are dedicated to the memory of Lieutenant Todd Bryant and Captain Tim Moshier, West Point class of 2002 roommates who were killed in action in Iraq several years apart, along with all fallen heroes who gave their lives for our country.