Remembering Memorial Day

Memorial Day ceremony on the deck of the USS Intrepid, 2009

Memorial Day ceremony on the deck of the USS Intrepid in 2009, where veterans of many generations unfurl an American flag to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice

I have to admit that I bristle every time I hear someone say “Happy Memorial Day” or see an ad for Memorial Day car or furniture sales covered in American flags.  On one hand, it’s great to have a long weekend where a large share of American working families get to have time off together–we work hard, we sacrifice, and we build the best quality of life we can in this country.  We love the beach, the lake, the river, the backyard, or wherever we choose to celebrate that.

But it’s also well worth taking some time to remember why Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States.  This isn’t the same as Veteran’s Day, where we honor and celebrate those who have served in our nation’s wars.  Memorial Day is the somber analog to Veterans Day–Memorial Day is where we commemorate and grieve the loss of so many in our nation’s wars, and the holes left by those losses in our families, in our communities, and in our hearts.

Originally Decoration Day, the last Monday in May was the day that widows, orphans, fellow veterans, and community organizations would place fresh spring flowers on the graves of Union soldiers who died in the Civil War.  This was a war that had affected every family in the United States, where an estimated 2.5 percent of the entire population had died as a result of the four years of brutal combat on our own soil.  (By comparison, less than half of a percent of our population today has served in our current wars.)  The Civil War decimated an entire generation of men, leaving families without fathers, husbands, sons, and breadwinners.  And so many of the men who returned home were wounded and dismembered, with little treatment to soothe their aching wounds.  Life went on, but the loss of these men was a daily reality for the families and communities who had relied on them.

Setting aside one day out of the year to decorate their graves seems almost diminutive of such loss, but it made grieving a collective, public act.  While on a daily basis only families and loved ones decorate graves, Memorial Day was a day where flags were flown at half staff to remember all of the fallen, when communities would decorate the all of the graves with flowers, an American flag, or other tokens of remembrance.  It is a public remembrance, a day where we can say collectively that those fallen in our wars have not been forgotten, that we haven’t forgotten what it meant to those families to struggle on without the ones they’ve lost.

It’s a good thing that we are a nation no longer impacted by entire generations destroyed by war, and that most families will enjoy a barbecue or picnic on Monday instead of a tearful visit to a loved one’s grave.  But.  Please take some time to remember those who are missing a husband, wife, father, mother, brother, or sister because they died in Iraq, Afghanistan, or another combat zone of recent memory.  As a nation, we must remember those losses, and those still struggling to move on from them.

Lift a glass in honor of fallen comrades and their families.  Speak the names of the dead so they are not forgotten.  Talk about a family member in your past who made the ultimate sacrifice, or who struggled on after their loss.   Visit a cemetery and place flowers or a flag on a fallen soldier’s grave.  Remember and honor the sacrifice.

28 thoughts on “Remembering Memorial Day

  1. I maintain the Walk of the Fallen Memorial Labyrinth that I built on my own property to memorialize the fallen from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Today I will carry in the last strand of counting beads connoting the US and Coalition dead of those wars — bringing the total beads on the central monument to 8,320.

    We are a household of veterans. We do not forget, nor do we forget that America is now represented by a shrinking percentage of military families.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. See this is why I like these types of post, even though I am not from the United States I am completely informed about what holidays like Memorial Day truly means. I am grateful for the experience of reading this post. Thank you.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I completely agree. I cringe when those sale commercials come on and when fellow students talk about partying for Memorial Day. A lot of the remembrance and honor in the holiday has seemingly been lost to young people. It is a day to reflect and honor those who have given their lives for our country to be free, it’s shouldn’t just be known as a three-day weekend. Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Very profound. It is easy to get caught up in the festivities that take place on Memorial Day and forget the REAL reason we celebrate this day. Thank you for reminding all of us with your post.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I agree with everything that you’ve said. When my children were young I tried to blend the two ideas. We would go to West Point and put flowers on my grandfather’s grave. Then we would have a picnic on the banks of the Hudson River surrounded by the beauty and history of West Point. We are a military family, so our focus has always been on the veterans. But we also enjoy the time off from work while giving thanks to the people who died so that we can enjoy our freedom.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. A lovely post! Everyone hears about the Memorial Day but not everyone acknowledges the true motive behind it. Thank you for his great post!

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  7. Reblogged this on She Writes to Say and commented:
    Nobody wants to hear that they can’t use their extra day off to enjoy BBQ, the lake, and hanging out with friends. But in times where I have seen multiple people and groups thanklessly and abusively burn and walk all over the flag of my country… this makes it all the more important to me to take care of our veterans, our soldiers, and to honor the fallen who were protecting my right to freedom. Just as with every other holiday, we have lost the true meaning and purpose of it. Thank God for the veterans, thank God for brave soldiers, and thank God for the freedom we hold. God bless the USA.

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  8. It is for that reason, that I coined a new expression I wish to begin using. “Honored Memorial Day” seems to be closer to the intention of the day.

    The family name I now bear was due to the necessity of putting my direct ancestor up for adoption, when the father of the family was killed in the Civil War.

    Memorial Day is very personal to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on girlanthology and commented:
    Just thinking about all of the men and women who left their families and gave up their lives for the sake of ours sends chills down my spine. They truly made the ultimate sacrifice and did an extraordinary thing.

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  10. As a Vietnam-era veteran of the Navy I appreciate your remarks. Too bad politics has to not only CAUSE wars, but threaten to lose them too-as in our current morass. Support our troops can sound hollow from those who don’t support the campaign. Just because there are defeats, still doesn’t make the reason wrong. We can honor our losses with victory.

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