RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Memorial Day is often called the unofficial start of summer — filled with picnics and pool parties.

But a Raleigh veteran asks us all to take a moment to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day and honor those who sacrificed everything for our country.

“I don’t think too many people really realize what Memorial Day is about,” said Edgar Helmey. “They think it’s a holiday.”

For Helmey, it is much more than that. He proudly served in the Air Force for much of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

“I flew 11 different aircraft, four of the most historic aircraft the Air Force ever had,” he said.

Helmey flew during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and at times he worried he wouldn’t make it home.

“I always thought I would be killed in an airplane — I never thought that I would live through it,” he recalled.

At 94, he’s grateful he can tell his story, but many others didn’t come home, like his cousin who was killed fighting in World War II.

Decades later, Helmey wants to make sure those who made the ultimate sacrifice are recognized this Memorial Day.

“Memorial Day is not for me,” he explained. “Veterans Day is for me. Memorial Day is for those that’s gone on.”

Still, most veterans know what it’s like to lose someone. Helmey’s senior living community, Magnolia Glen, recently unveiled a Veterans Wall, honoring those who’ve served.

For many, Memorial Day brings back memories of loved ones lost, but no matter how you spend your day, Helmey hopes you’ll take time to reflect on its true meaning.

“It is in memory of those people that gave their lives,” he said.