It’s that time of year again. The school year is ending, the weather is getting warmer, BBQs are firing up, and Memorial Day is here. Like so many other holidays, Memorial Day has become the unofficial commercialized celebratory start of summer and too many forget what this day signifies. So that’s why I am sharing A Veteran’s Perspective on Memorial Day.
A Veteran’s Perspective on Memorial Day
Memorial Day is often marked as a time of BBQs, blowout sales, and the beginning of summer.
There are those who do give the holiday the meaning it deserves. It’s not just another day off, it’s
a time to remember all those who we lost while in service to our nation. No one understands that better
than a veteran.
Now, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t enjoy your BBQ, guest, and nice weather. By all means, take advantage and celebrate! Let us just take the day to pay homage to all of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Vets may celebrate the holiday, most get the day off as well, but it is often a more subdued time for many. This holiday is, for some, downright depressing. You would be hard-pressed to find a veteran who hasn’t lost someone in service.
What exactly is Memorial Day?
If you read my previous post all aboutMemorial Day 101, complete with Memorial Day History and etiquette, then you probably are up to speed on exactly what Memorial Day is about. If you haven’t, let me go over a brief history.
Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971, but it has been acknowledged since the Civil War ended. By 1866, following the Civil War, which claimed more American lives than any other conflict in US history, communities started springtime rituals of paying respects to all those who had died. 1868 saw the declaration of Decoration Day by General John A. Logan.
He chose the date specifically because no particular battles took place on that day. By 1890 all states had declared Decoration Day an official state holiday. Eventually, Decoration Day became known as Memorial Day after the USA entered WWI and WWII and the day was changed to honor those fallen in all US wars.
In 1966, Waterloo, NY was declared the official birthplace of Memorial Day, due to their large yearly celebration where business closed and people decorated the graves of fallen soldiers. 1971 saw the change to making Memorial Day an official federal holiday and moving it to the last Monday in May, giving federal employees a three-day weekend.
Many don’t realize the history behind the holiday, and it’s not surprising as the last great war ended 72 years ago.
With advances in technology, fewer soldiers die, and more are saved. While this is a very good thing we should all be thankful for, it also means that holidays such as Memorial Day are sort of forgotten because there is little modern context.
It’s no secret that service members are often the first to break out the BBQ and crack open drinks over the holiday weekend. There is no disrespect for those enjoying the day off at a good BBQ party. However, it is also a good idea to take at least a moment, if not a full day, to pay your respects.
Flags In is a solemn way to pay respects. Any national cemetery has this ceremony where patrons can place flags at each fallen military member’s headstone. If you don’t live near a national cemetery, something as simple as sending a thought or a prayer, visiting a VFW or American Legion and finding out what services are offered are other ways of getting involved.
If you had a family member who served, call them up. It can be a difficult day for them. Acknowledge that this isn’t necessarily a day for them, but for those friends that they lost. Tell stories, take a trip to your local museum, or hang a flag.
A Veterans Perspective Of Memorial Day
Veterans truly understand the meaning behind the holiday. It is a time for reflection and
remembrance. It’s their yearly reminder that some of their friends did not make it back and they did.
Feelings of guilt, anger, sorrow and more can be overwhelming at times. It’s important to understand
that. Consider it when that vet turns down your invitation to the BBQ or doesn’t want to hang out. Most
just want your understanding that this can be a difficult day for them.
An awful lot of veterans get outright angry with our modern treatment of this sacred holiday. All
too often their anger is also just brushed off. Many people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day.
This results in a lot of people approaching veterans with thanks and good cheer. They do not really want others saying “Thank You For Your Service” on this day. Especially those Veterans who may have severe PTSD.
While vets always appreciate gratitude towards their profession, on this day, it can trigger hurt and anger. This day is not for them. It is for that friend they couldn’t save, and they don’t want thanks for that.
A lot of vets withdraw from media around Memorial Day.
There are commercials galore blasting “Memorial Day SAVINGS!” and “Join the Memorial Day Blowout Event!” Most don’t want any part in any of that.
And who can blame them? When you start to understand their perspective, and that this can be a deeply personal day for them, you start to see why this is not necessarily the “unofficial start of summer.”
Most will take this time, at least some of it, and hang out with fellow Soldiers. Or maybe they’ll withdraw. Or maybe they’ll go out and buy 3 drinks, and only drink 1. Those lucky few who haven’t personally lost a friend or family member in combat still often pay respect to their fallen comrades. The military is nothing if not a family.
Many of us have family members and ancestors that served, and maybe even died for our country. So even if you don’t know anyone personally right now, odds are good somewhere back in time you do hold that connection as well.
That’s All Most Veterans Want You To Know
They want respect, not thanks. They want acknowledgment, not praise. Take note, civilian world, as there is so much we have gotten away from with this holiday. Remember- Veterans Day is another holiday that is set aside for Thanking our Veterans.
There is also so much one can do, and all it takes is a little support, and a lot of understanding. Celebrate and be thankful that you live in this country, but also be thankful for those who fought and died to make it for you.
All it takes is a little knowledge to “properly” celebrate Memorial Day. Enjoy your BBQ and hang out with friends or take that family vacation. Just also remember what this day is about. Pause and take a moment to give thanks to those who made it possible to give you the day you celebrate.
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