Memorial Day is a day that has become just another glorified Veteran’s day to people – but mostly, it’s become a day that just marks the beginning of summer, and gives most people an extra day off work. It is a weekend that people go camping, BBQ, and gather with friends or family. Sure, some people might take a minute to stop by a family member’s grave and place some flowers or a flag there, but it goes no further than that.
It is a day that my husband finds infinitely infuriating. He commented to me just the other day that he was going to have to try not to “fly off the handle with the first person who wishes me a ‘happy Memorial Day'”. It is not a feeling that he needed to explain to me, and it is not one that is unique to him – I’ve seen it in so many veterans.
I think that a big part of the disconnect comes from a lack of knowledge on the history of Memorial Day. It was a day that was set aside after the end of the Civil war to decorate the graves of the men who had recently died in battle. In 1868, Gen. John Logan declared the 30th of May to be “an occasion to honor those who died in the conflict.” And he chose that day because it wasn’t marked by an anniversary of any particular battle.
Yet today, it’s just a day that people might thank someone for their military service – but that’s not really what it was meant to be about. That’s what Armed Forces Day (which is virtually unknown) and Veteran’s day is for. This is a day to honor the great sacrifice of men and women who have died in service to our Country.
I read this article last year, entitled I’m a veteran, and I hate ‘Happy Memorial Day.’ Here’s Why, from the Washington Post. It eloquently puts into words the feeling that those of us who are Veterans have regarding the holiday, and I’d like to share an excerpt here.
“A friend said “Hey! Do you want to go to Fleet Week? It’s this weekend here in the city.”
What? …Absolutely not. …As I said it (barked it, really), my friend’s eyes widened and I recognized the frustration in my tone. I didn’t know why I was upset, at first.
How is it then …after more than a decade of war in two countries that claimed the lives of some 6,861 Americans, we are collectively more concerned with having a barbecue and going shopping than pausing to appreciate the cost of our freedom to do so?
A friend reminded me that plenty of people use the weekend the way it was designed: to pause and remember the men and women who paid the price of our freedom, and then go on about enjoying those freedoms. But I argue not enough people use it that way. Not enough people pause. Not enough people remember. “
And therein lies the rub, I feel. Our freedoms were not given to us freely. Thousands of men and women and their families paid a high price for us to have the freedoms we enjoy. This day that was set aside to honor them has been corrupted, and so many military service members are resentful of that.
I don’t begrudge anyone their barbecues, their camping trips, their time with family and friends – in part because I would argue that those are exactly the sorts of freedoms that these soldiers died protecting.
But I wholeheartedly agree with the author’s feeling that “not enough people pause. Not enough people remember.”
We need to remember, we need to talk about their service and their deaths – lest we forget. Remembering and honoring their sacrifice precludes us taking our liberties for granted. And that, I feel, is the ultimate shame. As a nation, we have so little invested in what our freedoms have cost that we do take them for granted. The bumper sticker ribbon I’ve seen is true and we could do to remember it: “freedom is not free”.
Men like my mother’s cousin, Gene Gietzen (KIA in Vietnam), my Grandmother’s uncle, Glenn Heaton (KIA in WW1 at the battle of Argonne), and my husband’s great-uncle who died as a POW in Korea – these men and so many others died protecting our freedoms. And so while I will certainly enjoy the long weekend with my family, we will pause to remember these honorable men and women. We will remember.