May 27, 2022
We’ve all seen the annual Memorial Day parade. Each community has its own particular traditions, but many features remain the same. Veterans marching proudly down the street to honor their fallen comrades, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, school bands, etc., in their uniforms. A solemn ceremony where names of those lost in battle are read.
There is some confusion between two days of remembrance—Veterans Day and Memorial Day. On Veterans Day, we honor all who went to war to protect our home and our way of life. On Memorial Day, we honor those lost during the fight. There are some who get very upset when someone thanks a Veteran for their service on Memorial Day. While technically correct—Memorial Day is not a day to focus on living Veterans, it is my opinion that it is NEVER wrong to thank any Veteran for their service.
Days of remembrance for those lost in war began shortly after the end of the Civil War. Initially these days were referred to as “Decoration Day,” where people would place flowers on the graves of those who fell. Eventually, all 50 states acknowledged Decoration Day on May 30 each year. Although the phrase “Memorial Day” was in use as early as the 1880s, the official Federal “Memorial Day” holiday was not created until 1968 as part of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act—taking effect in 1971. This law was fairly controversial as many Veterans groups felt that, by creating a Monday holiday, the intended purpose of honoring our nation’s fallen soldiers was at risk of being lost to those wishing to celebrate a spring-time long weekend.
When I was a child, the Veterans in the Memorial Day Parade were typically World War II or Korean War veterans with a couple of very old World War I veterans. In my youthful ignorance, it never occurred to me that these old people had been vital and brave heroes in their respective wars. All I saw was aging people in uniforms that looked so different from the Marine Corps soldiers who I saw daily as the child of a career Marine.
I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and talk with a variety of wartime Veterans in my life. Without fail, they all have a story of how hard it was, how lucky they were, and how they still grieve their lost compatriots. They have helped me to understand how fortunate my family has been to have sent many men overseas and every single one of them returned to us. So many families have suffered the horrible loss of one or more young person lost through the tragedy of war.
This weekend, it’s not wrong to thank our Veterans. But, remember that this is not a weekend of celebration for many Veterans, but rather is a time to remember and reflect on their time overseas and the losses that they carry in their hearts.
President Biden, in his annual Memorial Day proclamation in 2021, stated “That is the vow we make each year on Memorial Day. Our Nation will never forget the courage and patriotism demonstrated by the countless women and men who laid down their lives so that we may continue to pursue a more perfect Union and to protect the unalienable rights Americans hold dear. They came from every part of the country, of every background and belief, united by a shared belief in our uniquely American creed — that all people are created equal. We will honor their legacy by continuing our work to live up to that commitment and to advance the values they lived and died to defend.”