Memorial Day (2024)

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 it 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 2023, stated “On Memorial Day, we honor America’s beloved daughters and sons who gave their last full measure of devotion to this Nation.  We can never fully repay the debt we owe these fallen heroes.  But today, we vow to rededicate ourselves to the work for which they gave their lives, and we recommit to supporting the families, caregivers, and survivors they left behind. For generations, stretching back to the formation of our country, these courageous people answered duty’s call, willing to give their lives for that which we all hold dear.  They fought for our Independence.  They defended our democracy.  They sacrificed for our freedom.  And today, as they lie in eternal peace, we continue to live by the light of liberty that they so bravely kept burning bright around the world.”