Memorial Day is at heart a somber holiday -- an occasion to honor members of our military who died in service to our country.

Of course, it also serves as an informal celebration of upcoming summer; a three-day weekend to shop, barbecue, imbibe and socialize.

Many New Yorkers who have served or are close to a veteran see no reason why the holiday can't serve both purposes: Honoring fallen heros while savoring the pleasures of a life they made possible.

James Lee Norman, 39, a kindergarten teacher who lives in Mt. Vernon, can't wait to slip into shorts and nosh on junk food. He is enlisting a platoon of family members to go to Great Adventure if the weather cooperates.

"The King Kong ride is always busy. So I want to get on line," said Norman.

But he will also spend the holiday thinking of his father, a Vietnam vet who died in 1996, and a brother who recently died of sickle cell anemia.

Though the holiday is significant, "we work so hard! Let's just all let our hair down," and give thanks not just for those who have passed on, but for those who still are with us, Norman said.

William Rogers, 25, a West Harlem resident looking for work after a tour in Afghanistan, will be seeing "Godzilla" with his sister and nieces. The veteran likes the holiday because the weather elevates people's spirits and that lifts his mood.

For Rogers, a U.S. Army National Guardsman still haunted by watching the death of an Afghani Border Patrol guard, Memorial Day is about everyone who died in armed conflicts. "I just like to reflect and remember all the men and women who are greater than myself," and those who put duty ahead of personal gain, Rogers said.

Judging from all the people planning barbecues, this Memorial Day could result in an increase of particulate air pollution at the same time people are itching to enjoy the outdoors.

Virginia de Guzman, 64, of Fordham, the Bronx, will bring the Italian sausage to the cookout hosted by her "adopted family" in Jackson Heights. "Memorial Day is one of my favorite holidays because I love history and I respect the soldiers and everyone in public service," said the retired teacher.

"My uncle and I will be sharing the grill," said Sammy Wilkins, 27, an office assistant who lives in Bed-Stuy.