How to respectfully commemorate Memorial Day

How to respectfully commemorate Memorial Day

Memorial Day:  a three day weekend set aside for barbecuing and kicking off the beginning of summer, right? It is unfortunate that when asked what is being celebrated on this holiday, that is how most Americans respond. Memorial Day is actually a national holiday set aside to remember and honor all soldiers who have died during service to our nation.

What is Memorial Day?

  • The origin of Memorial Day stems from honoring the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. Originally called “Decoration Day,” people would adorn the graves of the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers with flowers. It was decided by Major General John A. Logan in 1868 that it should be observed on May 30th each year. It is rumored that he chose that day because all flowers would be in bloom.
  • Where the tradition started is up for debate, however President Johnson declared in 1966 that Waterloo, NY was the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. On May 5th 1866, the town closed business, flew flags at half-mast, and had a ceremony to commemorate fallen heroes. Supporters of Waterloo’s claim say previous ceremonies were either informal, or the population didn’t celebrate in entirety at a single event. Many southern towns vehemently protest that they are in fact the origin place of Memorial Day.
  •  In 1971, a congressional act deemed Memorial Day to be a national holiday observed on the last Monday in May. Memorial Day is to be a day of remembrance and honor all those who have died while serving our country in all manners, not just the Civil War.

Memorial Day is not Veteran’s Day

As a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I love being honored and celebrated for my service to my country. There is a day that is set aside for me: Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day is another national holiday that is observed annually on November 11th.  While I agree that you should honor and respect those who serve our country everyday, it is imperative that Americans recognize the difference between honoring those who served, and honoring those who gave their lives. It is easy to shake someone’s hand and thank them for their service; it is not as easy to console a widow/widower whose husband/wife has made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  Memorial Day is about not only honoring the dead heroes, but also their family and friends. On Memorial Day each year, my family makes a small pledge to give back to widows of fallen heroes. If this is how you would like to honor someone, there are many organizations to support. I typically go out with a few of my battle buddies, we order an extra drink that sits on the bar untouched with a photo of our fallen comrade, and take turns telling hilarious stories of the vibrancy of his life.

3 ways to commemorate Memorial Day

While you are enjoying your three-day weekend with your family and friends, there are three simple ways to respectfully commemorate Memorial Day:

  1. Visit a cemetery or monument to honor a lost loved one

    You can honor them with flowers or small flags placed on their graves. Some communities hold ceremonies and parades where small flags are placed in a condensed area to represent each fallen solider within the locale. Plan ahead and take part in these ceremonies to show your support for the families who have lost loved ones. In communities that do not hold ceremonies, there will typically be a parade to show respect and honor to fallen heroes. In this case, small flags are passed out and waved to represent loved ones lost. Whether your support Memorial Day by attending, participating, or sponsoring parades, your effort will be appreciated.

  2. Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance

    In 2000, a law was passed through Congress that encourages all Americans to pause at 3:00 pm local time and remember and honor those who have sacrificed their lives for our nation.

  3. Place your office flag at half-staff

    If your office has an American flag, coordinate with your building’s maintenance professional to place it at half-staff for Memorial Day. If you do not have a flag, talk to someone about possibly getting one for your building. Flags are traditionally flown at half-staff by order of the President to represent the death or mourning of a government official, however placing your flag this way is a great way to show honor to the fallen soldiers and their grieving families.

According to data gathered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as well as numbers from the Department of Defense, IRS, U.S. Census Bureau, and Social Security Administration, 92.7% of living Americans have never served in the Armed Services. That being stated, it is not shocking that the views on Memorial Day have been clouded by camping, barbecues, and parties. I am not saying that you shouldn’t celebrate your long weekend, I am simply recommending that you take a moment to honor someone who gave their life for your right to do so.