Saturday, May 23, 2015

Doing Memorial Day right-ish: Yet one more thing to divide us? No, please.

Monday is Memorial Day. On that we can agree (maybe*). But that may be the end of the agreement based on some articles and social media posts I’ve seen.

For example, one person lamented, “...wish more people understood the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. They are not the same.” Included was this powerful image:

Raleigh Duttweiler, the wife of a Marine, wrote a thoughtful article, “To My Civilian Friends on Memorial Day” that many have have shared. It includes a reminder and admonition:

There are other social media posts pointing toward the same issue, some subtle, some not.

So what’s the deal? Well, technically speaking...

According to the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, from their “Veterans Day Frequently Asked Questions” here’s the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day:
“Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military - in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served - not only those who died - have sacrificed and done their duty.”
Good to know.

A day for the dead, a day for the living

So, to keep it simple and straightforward, and to be technically accurate, Memorial Day is to honor the dead, Veterans Day is to honor the living.

But it can get a little muddy when someone asks, “But what about those who survived their military service but are now deceased?”

The answer, buried in the FAQ answer above, is that they are, technically, supposed to only be “remembered” on Veterans Day, the day for celebrating, primarily, the living.

So, technically, they’re in a kind of remembrance limbo. Or given somewhat of a brush off. More or less.

And then someone asks, “So, on Memorial Day we aren’t supposed to acknowledge those in the military who are still alive at all?”

Well, again, technically, no.

Although that seems a little rude. And certainly patriotic Americans don’t want to be seen as being rude to their military!

So many technicalities. So many minefields.

So, ultimately, what are we to do?

I wrote a “remembrance” blog post that I posted Friday titled “Remembering Memorial Days.

I’m sure some are pooh-poohing it as not being “technically” correct in that I didn’t overtly mention anything about honoring those who fell while in service. But I did reference them! Just in a very subtle way.

Did you read the full post? Carefully? You missed it? Okay, maybe I was a little too subtle.

Mostly the post was about my childhood memories of celebrating Memorial Days over the years, from the perspective of a child. There were picnics with friends and family, always the Indy 500, as well as acknowledging those who served and died.

Near the end, I wrote, “As dark fell we passed out the sparklers, lit them, and streaked the night writing our lives large in big glowing loops, as dads and uncles lolled in post-picnic languor reverently murmuring among themselves, remembering bombs bursting in air, bullets whizzing everywhere, missing them. Just missing them.”

While the bombs and bullets “missed” them, implied is the fact that many others weren’t missed. Others died and did not come back to enjoy what we were enjoying. And now those who died are missed as we reflect, each in our own way, on their sacrifice, and are “Just missing them.”

As children, we didn’t appreciate the full meaning behind Memorial Day then, but came to more fully appreciate it over time, which was another subtle point I was trying to evoke.

Everyone reflects & remembers in their own way

Yes, I understand the desire to keep the two holidays “pure” in their definitions and purpose. That’s fine. Although I'm not sure I agree that the only “ultimate” sacrifice is to die on a battlefield.

Many who have served sacrificed a lot during their service, and many are still sacrificing aspects of their lives as a result of their service. Saying only one form of sacrifice is “ultimate” seems to also wrongly diminish others. But we can agree to disagree.

My point is this:

Perhaps we can agree to not be too picky about how we all choose to pause, think, remember, honor, and recognize those who died serving, who have served, and who are serving in the military.

While I can empathize with Raleigh Duttweiler that “tagging every veteran you know on Facebook and wishing them a ‘Happy Memorial Day’” may not be the most appropriate way to honor the holiday, it’s also not totally a bad thing.

Celebrate with conversations about how, what & who we remember

Go ahead and gently nudge your friends who “do it wrong” by engaging them in a conversation about why they celebrate this day or that day, what it means to them, who among their family and friends have served or are serving, and, by the way, are they aware of the specific history and meaning of the day.

If they get it, meaning the finer details of Memorial Day versus Veterans Day, or any other military-related holiday, fine.

But, if they don’t get it, fine.

There is no need to guilt each other out. We don’t need “one more thing” to be divided over or annoyed about.

Nor do we need to take the focus off of what is really important: That people are thinking about, appreciative of, and thankful for those who have served is what really matters.

As I ended my previous blog post,
“For [your service, past and present] we -- proud sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandkids, wives -- were thankful. Are thankful. We salute you. Then and now, never forgotten. Always missed. We remember.”
Let’s all remember together, respectfully, reverently, tolerantly, each in our own personal way.

Related links:

How about you? What are some of your favorite Memorial Day memories? Any special traditions you and your family observed each year? Any special plans for this year? Do you think Memorial Day means the same thing to people today? Share your thoughts in the comments?

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