Thoughts On Memorial Day

trumanMemorial Day. The day in the United States that we honor those who died while serving in our military.  I hear people say they are “celebrating” Memorial Day. That term bothers me. Yes, Memorial Day Weekend is our unofficial first weekend of Summer. Many workers get a three-day weekend. We have cook-outs, family gatherings, we watch the Indy 500 on TV. We celebrate the weekend. We don’t “celebrate” Memorial Day. That’s the day we honor and remember those military personnel who died while in military service.

Memorial Day. “Let us remember all who have served, All gave some; Some gave all.”  That bothers me, too.  If someone has served in the military; I am thankful for their service. They volunteered or took up the duty to serve in the Armed Forces.  For that service we honor all military serviceman on Veterans Day. That is the day we thank our men and women in uniform for that service.  Whether, they saw combat or not, whether they survived a war or not, whether they lived or died–Veterans Day is their day.  That is the day we should say, “All gave some, Some Gave All”.  Veterans Day honors all veterans.

Memorial Day. “Our war dead are heroes, one and all.”  That term bothers me, as well. Not everyone is a hero. Not everyone that dies is a hero. Not everyone that serves in the military and dies is a hero.

Our Armed Forces are served by ordinary men and women. Some of those people rose to extreme circumstances and achieved extraordinary results. They may have given their lives in determined acts to save other lives, to act with heroic measures and attain hero status in uncommon ways. They may have perished in their acts as heroes or survived to received medals, honors and praise.  They were heroes.

Sadly, others perished as cannon fodder, the first wave, or the front row. Others died in their sleep, or eating a cold meal. They died scared, hungry, hot or cold, with a weapon in their hands, or a letter from home. They died running toward an enemy or quite possibly; theymilitary_funeral-736030 died running away.

They were not heroes. We don’t honor heroes on Memorial Day, we honor all those who died for just being there; so we could stay here.  We honor those; not for being extraordinary, but so we could remain ordinary.

These are the things I remember on Memorial Day, and that does not bother me.






Laying a Wreath at the Unknown Soldier courtesy of Abbie Rowe, National Archives
Military Funeral, Alaska, 1944 Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information

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One Response to Thoughts On Memorial Day

  1. Yes, there’s a difference between Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, but some people like to treat them the same. I suppose because they have family in active service and want their family members to be remembered. Or because some politician wants the recognition of wrapping the flag around him or her self. Or because the media get the holidays wrong (or want the recognition of wrapping the flag around themselves).

    I get uncomfortable with the whole “I’m a better patriot than you” game that often occurs around supporting the military and the flag and the concept of “American exceptionalism” and rallying around the military-industrial complex. These holidays have become tangled in that whole effort, too.

    The concept of the hero probably is exacerbated by family who don’t want their family members to have died in vain and by all those people I mentioned in my first and second paragraphs who seek to live in the glory of super-patriotism. I can’t blame the families for seeing their sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, cousins and others as heroes for dying while serving their country. That’s a tremendous loss for them. But I can blame the others, who stoke the flames of patriotism for personal gain, and when they do it at a time of loss of another person or other persons, that’s a sin in my book.

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