Have a mindful and meaningful Memorial Day
Updated: Aug 8, 2022
Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching. Businesses will be displaying signs, and people on social media will be wishing you a “Happy Memorial Day!”
While it is the official start of summer for many, and the long weekend lends itself to barbecues and get-togethers with family and friends, we should remain mindful of the origins, and reflect upon the meaning, of the holiday.
First, let’s clear up the difference between Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, as it seems the lines have been blurred over time.
Armed Forces Day is celebrated on the third Saturday in May, and is the day to honor all of the men and women currently serving, as well as those who have served and sacrificed to defend our freedom. President Harry Truman established the holiday in 1950.
Veterans Day is a day to honor those who have served. It is always commemorated on November 11, no matter what day of the week it falls on. It was first celebrated as Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, which was formally recognized on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918. That’s why many Veterans Day ceremonies are held at 11 a.m.
Memorial Day honors the men and women who have died during military service, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. It is a day to memorialize those veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. This also includes those veterans who have taken their own lives due to the invisible wounds they incurred while serving.
You have probably seen red poppy flowers, which have become a symbol of remembrance associated with Memorial Day. For those unfamiliar with them, here is a quick explanation, but more info can be found here.
In the war-torn battlefields of Europe, the common red field poppy was one of the first plants to reappear. Its seeds scattered in the wind and sat dormant in the ground, only germinating when the ground was disturbed—as it was by the very brutal fighting of World War I.
John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and physician, witnessed the war first hand and was inspired to write the now-famous poem “In Flanders Fields” in 1915 when he saw the poppies scattered throughout the battlefield surrounding his artillery position in Belgium.
In 2000, The National Moment of Remembrance was created by President William Clinton to observe a moment of silence 3:00 p.m. (local time) on each Memorial Day. This is to encourage Americans everywhere, to pause for one minute to remember and honor those who have died in the service to our nation.
If you think about it, using the word “happy” in front of Memorial Day is an oxymoron. We don’t say “Happy 9 11 Day” do we? It’s easy to see how it happens, it being the official start of the summer season for many, and it’s similar to the commercialization of Christmas; the original meaning having shifted over time for many.
I recently spoke with Gold Star Mother Carol Resh, who is currently serving on the National Executive Board of Gold Star Mothers, Inc., and is President of her local GSM chapter in Pennsylvania. Her son Army Capt. Mark Resh was killed in action when his Apache helicopter crashed during combat operations in Iraq in 2007.
I asked Mrs. Resh what she would want people to know about Memorial Day from her perspective, and she said, “for Gold Star Families Memorial Day is every day.” She said people need to know that we “observe” Memorial Day (as opposed to celebrate) and to “go ahead and have your picnics, but take the time out of that day to think about those who gave their all so that you can have the freedoms that you have.” She added, “Memorial Day is not a happy day for us.”
Personal experiences will obviously affect the way you approach the upcoming holiday. I know far too many Gold Star Family members, as well as family and friends that have lost battle buddies or loved ones, to take the day for granted.
The phrase, “There but for the grace of God go I” is applicable. My son was wounded in Afghanistan in 2011 and, as he says, he was lucky to escape with life, limb and eyesight. Many he served with were not so lucky.
A few years ago he spoke at a Memorial Day ceremony in his hometown, and I think what he said back then is still good advice.
He spoke of the soldiers he fought with that did not come home, saying it was the reason we were there that day, “To honor soldiers that paid the ultimate price and laid down their lives for our country, our freedom. That’s what it’s about; not veterans, barbecues, or a day off from work. It’s about thanking those heroes that gave their lives for everything we have. May we never forget these brave soldiers and keep them, their families and loved ones in our hearts. While you’re barbecuing today and enjoying your time with family and friends, please don’t forget to raise your glasses.”
Whatever your plans are for this coming Monday, please pause, if for a moment, to remember the thousands of brave Americans we have lost in service to our country.
As I attend several events over the weekend, my thoughts will also be with the family and friends of those who are keeping the memory of their loved ones alive.
Have a mindful and meaningful Memorial Day.
“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free. And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.” — Lee Greenwood
Originally published on Citizen Stringer May 27, 2021