It is a phrase that many of us have probably heard and even maybe uttered a time or two in our lives. It is late May and we are having lunch with a coworker or friend and as we head in our separate directions at the end of the meal we blurt out, “Have a happy Memorial Day weekend!” It’s an automatic response of politeness that requires no thought on our end. We simply want someone we care about to enjoy the holiday weekend. No harm in that at all. Okay, before we go any further, the point of this article is not to chastise you or make you feel bad, I promise. Just read it to the end and you will see. ☺
Of course, all of our holiday weekends are about celebrating an event. We celebrate the birth of our nation, a significant religious event, and president’s birthdays (okay, that has always been an odd one for me). Many of our holidays are to celebrate and remember the remarkable achievements of amazing individuals, like Martin Luther King, Jr. We have also added so many other “days” to our calendar that it can be hard to keep track of them all. National Dog Day. National Cat Day. National Avocado Day. (BTW, I love dogs and avocados and am okay with cats, so no angry letters from anyone.) However, even people familiar with the military often blur the meanings of Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and Armed Forces Day.*
Memorial Day is unique in that it is not about any one person, but a group of people. Specifically, it is about remembering those who have given their lives in military service to our nation during war. It is understandable why we may have lost sight of that over time. During the First and Second World Wars, millions of Americans served in uniform. Our connection to the military was personal on many levels. It was our spouse, our sibling, our child, and almost no family was left untouched by loss. As time went on, so did war, but something started to happen. Wars got smaller. They were fought differently, with fewer people. Medical advances meant battlefield wounds of old were now survivable. Thus, fewer Americans were needed to join the military and, thankfully, even fewer were killed in war. However, this shift has led to a growing personal detachment from those who serve. Most people will not experience this loss or know someone who has died in a conflict.
So what should we do about this? Many others much smarter than I am have thought and written about this topic, so I will save that space for them. However, I do want to suggest a small gesture that everyone could do that would achieve the purpose of Memorial Day. Memorial Day has come to symbolize the official “start of summer,” which, I would argue, is a poetic way to kick off this season. Summers are times of family and fun, a chance to relax and take a break from many of the stresses in our lives. How appropriate then that we start summer with a holiday that remembers those who fought and died for the very liberties and freedoms that make the fun possible?
Many people will spend this weekend going to parades and visiting monuments dedicated to the memory of these men and women. You may not make it to one of these events, and that is okay. However, you can still do something simple to honor their sacrifice and treasure their memory. Take a brief moment, after you sit down for a meal, while standing around a campfire on the beach, or at some other gathering of family and friends and say these words: “Let’s take a moment to pause and remember the men and woman who sacrificed so we could enjoy this time together.”
We hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.
* Here\’s a quick primer:
- Memorial Day is a U.S. public holiday in May that honors those who died while in military service.
- Armed Forces Day also occurs in May and honors those currently serving in the U.S. military.
- Veterans Day (originally known as Armistice Day) is observed annually on November 11 for honoring military veterans, that is, persons who have served in the United States Armed Forces.