In 1999, the late Senator John McCain, himself a former naval pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam, introduced legislation to designate the month of May as National Military Appreciation Month. Each and every year for the past two decades, the Senate and House of Representatives have adopted resolutions urging the President to issue a proclamation that calls on the people of the United States to recognize and honor U.S. service members as "an act of national unity."

There are a variety of ways for ordinary Americans to heed this call and pay tribute to the brave men and women who serve our country at home and abroad. From recognizing the many national days of observance that take place throughout the month, to performing individual acts of kindness for service members, here are some of the best ways to demonstrate your gratitude this National Military Appreciation Month.

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.""The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."

National observances during National Military Appreciation Month

NMAM kicks off each year on May 1 with Loyalty Day, a special day set aside "for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom." First celebrated in 1921, Loyalty Day was made an official recurring holiday by Congress in 1958, and has been recognized with an official proclamation every year by every president since Dwight Eisenhower.

Every May also presents the opportunity to commemorate Victory in Europe Day, which occurred on May 8, 1945, and represented the end of World War II in Europe. This year, VE Day will fall on Wednesday, May 8, and will mark the 74th anniversary of Germany's unconditional surrender to America and the allied forces.

VE Day is shortly followed by Military Spouse Appreciation Day, which traditionally occurs on the Friday before Mother's Day. On May 10, 2019, Americans will honor military spouses with appropriate ceremonies and activities, and recognize the crucial part that military families have to play in strengthening our Armed Forces.

Celebrated the third Saturday in May every year, and this year on May 18, Armed Forces Day is a time reserved for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their service. This holiday celebrates every member of every branch of the U.S. military: the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

The last Monday of May is reserved for Memorial Day, a federal holiday meant to commemorate the men and women who died while in military service. This year, Memorial Day falls on May 27, 2019, and events are scheduled to take place throughout the country, with military parades happening in many cities and towns.

How to demonstrate your gratitude this May

There are many individual gestures you can make during NMAM, either in conjunction with one of the individual national observances, or simply as a random act of gratitude.

If there is a specific service member or military family in your life, you can let them know you appreciate their sacrifices with a gift, a thank you card or simply by taking the time to tell them. Offering to cook dinner for a military family or handle their chores on Military Spouse Appreciation Day is a good way to show you care. Similarly, calling and thanking a service member on May 18 is a great way to truly celebrate Armed Forces Day.

If you would like to reach out to service members you are not personally acquainted with, remember that a care package is always welcome. Operation Support Our Troops America has a program that ships boxes full of comfort items to men and women serving abroad, and you can find ways to donate, volunteer or join the mission on their website.

You can also do it on your own. The U.S. Postal Service offers a free "Military Care Kit" with all of the necessary supplies for sending packages overseas, including boxes, packing tape and customs forms. Get your free kit shipped to you by visiting the USPS website.

The brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces protect our nation day in and day out, and are deserving of our respect and thanks all year long. But National Military Appreciation Month should inspire us to make a special effort to show our appreciation and display conspicuous acts of gratitude.