Gold Star mothers recall sons' sacrifice: 'I’ll give up my dreams so you can live yours'

It’s been 10 years, yet the sound of Taps or a 21-gun salute takes these Gold Star families right back to their sons’ funerals.

"It just brings it back to when you were there, when your child was buried," said Katherine Conant, whose son John died in 2010.

These mothers were speaking on Memorial Day about the loss of their sons, Army Private First Class Jalfred Vaquerano and Sergeant John Conant.

Yolanda Mercado said her son Jalfred wanted to be a police officer, but joined the Army to serve his country instead.

"He just wanted to serve," Mercado recalled. "He was engaged to be married and hoped to come back and get married. And one of the things he said to his fiancée before we left was, I’ll give up my dreams so you can live yours."

Sergeant John Conant served multiple deployments in Iraq as a combat medic. His mother says he and his brothers were inspired by the military family history.

"They all three went in to honor their great grandmother who was a nurse in World War I, their grandparents who were in World War II – my dad was at Guadalcanal – and so they went into the same branch of service – the Army, to honor them," Conant said.

She says that’s what this day is all about.

"This day, besides remembrance, I think it’s also to honor all of those who have served," she continued. "And keep it at the forefront of the people -- We need to support all of our military men in the service."

Picnics, parades and BBQ’s are a great way to spend the day, Mercado says, but it’s important to understand why we can do that.

"We don’t mind people celebrating Memorial Day, but to stop and think, and to honor those who lost their lives," she added. "They didn’t die so we could celebrate – it’s not a celebration – it’s a remembrance.

According to the Department of Defense and Department of Military Affairs, nearly 1.2 million Americans have lost their lives in wars around the world. The Civil War remains the highest U.S. casualty rate, with more than 498,000 Americans killed.