Taking Time to Remember
On Monday, Memorial Day will be celebrated as the gateway into summer. Most people will (finally) be attending family bbqs, pool parties, weekend vacations and big sales on mattresses and washing machines. (I love some good BBQ. And come to think of it, I could use a new microwave).
But the original intent of Memorial Day was to honor those who had lost their lives in military service, specifically those who died in battle or of wounds sustained in battle. (As opposed to Veteran’s Day in November, which honors all servicemembers, living and deceased.)
A (very) Brief History of Memorial Day
- American communities have been gathering to mourn the fallen and decorate their graves since the Civil War.
- With the largest number of casualties of any war in American history, the death of a service member touched most every family of that era.
- May 30 was designated Decoration Day in the late 1860s. The first observance consisted of 5,000 people gathering to decorate the graves of Union soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.
- After World War 1, the Decoration Day holiday evolved to encompass all of the fallen in all American conflicts and the red poppy was introduced as a symbol of remembrance.
- In 1971, it was officially declared a national holiday, renamed Memorial Day and moved to the last Monday in May as a way to allow federal employees a 3-day weekend.
Traditionally, Memorial Day has been commemorated with parades and events held around memorials and cemeteries. But more and more, for the average American, Memorial Day has become about kicking off summer and less about the fallen. And this is why taking time to remember matters now, more than ever.
Since 1775 over a million servicemembers have lost their lives due to conflict. The lives we enjoy today are the result of their sacrifices. Honoring their service and those they have left behind is a bipartisan responsibility.
And it is really pretty straightforward. Just make the time to remember. Here are a few suggestions about how to do just that.
12 Ways to Remember the Fallen
- Learn about the history of Memorial Day.
- Participate in a Memorial Day event locally or watch a national event. (National Memorial Day Parade and Concert event info)
- Take a walk through a local veteran’s cemetery. (Find one near you.) Leave a flower on a veteran’s grave without one, in accordance with your cemetary’s protocols.
- Visit a national monument or museum and learn about the history of military sacrifice. If you aren’t able to visit one in person, learn about it online.
- Wear a red poppy for remembrance.
- Fly an American flag. Learn proper flag etiquette.
- Ask about and talk about those who are gone with their loved ones. Be a safe space for them to share their memories. If you don’t know any veterans personally, read some of their stories at the Veteran’s History Project, Carry the Load’s Tribute Wall, American Veterans Center’s Fallen Heroes or In Their Own Words: Military Widows Honor Their Husbands.
- Look up and leave a tribute to veteran family members who have passed on the Veterans Legacy Memorial.
- Support or volunteer with an organization that assists Gold Star Families. Check out: TAPS, American Widow Project, Gary Sinise Foundation’s Snowball Express, Children of Fallen Patriots Scholarship Foundation
- Watch a movie about the U.S. Military to pay tribute to and better understand the lives of our servicemembers. Discuss the sacrifice of war and what it means with your family.
- Replace Happy Memorial Day with We Will Remember.
- Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 pm local time.
Memorial Day celebrations are great. Having fun is okay. Our ability to enjoy our lives and our freedom is what our servicemembers defend. But as we celebrate, let’s also take the time to honor the families who are left behind. To honor the dead by investing in the veterans of today. To teach our children what Memorial Day is really all about.
And let’s take the time to remember.