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Memorial Day

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My father served in the Marine Corps, as did his brothers and my mother’s father. By the time I was six, I knew the words to the Marines’ Hymn. When I was growing up, Dad always took us to the Memorial Day parade in town. We had our regular spot at the stone wall where the parade made its turn from Ridgefield Road into the cemetery where the service of remembrance was held. At the conclusion of the service, everyone stood in silence while the mournful notes of “Taps” floated through the still New England air, first from the trumpet player at the cemetery and then echoed by another unseen, at a distance.

This is the first year I recall seeing posts and comments about the extent to which people seem to misconstrue Memorial Day—what it means, how it differs from Veterans Day, how to commemorate it. For instance, one post on Facebook stated, “If you wouldn’t say ‘congratulations’ at a funeral, don’t say ‘Happy Memorial Day.’” It makes perfect sense, but I hadn’t given the idea a thought before. As one who has never lost a loved one in military service, I have that luxury.

My friend, Kathleen, is the mother of one active duty career service member and two who have retired from service. Both her brother and her niece have also served in the military. Noting how few of us have a real connection to someone now in service or who has been, she had this to say: “Memorial Day to many people is the summer equivalent of Thanksgiving; a day to commemorate something important that involved a bunch of people we don’t know and an excuse to barbecue.”

She’s right. Even counting Kathleen’s sons, I know very few people who are or have been in the military. Most of them are from my father’s generation. If any of them are Gold Star families, I have not heard about it.

Perhaps it is this disconnect that makes it so easy to forget the true meaning of the day. For the vast majority of us, it’s about someone else. Someone else’s family, someone else’s friend, someone else’s loved one. Someone else’s sacrifice. We can all say, “Thank you for your service,” and we feel very appropriate that we have shown our appreciation, but as I sit here in my comfortable living room in my safe little town, it’s easy to forget that this comfort and safety have come at a great cost. Men and women who weren’t old enough to buy beer legally have paid with their lives so that I can say whatever I choose in this blog. Children have grown up without parents, mothers and fathers have buried sons and daughters, friends have mourned friends, so that people like me can be safe and free.

My cousin, Barb, posted this photo on Facebook this morning. I don’t know who conceived of this tribute, but I hope it becomes a tradition across the country:

Missing Man tribute

Photo credit: Barb Emma

From the website of IAVA:

This Memorial Day, IAVA will lay a wreath before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and later pause for a moment of silence at 3PM EST. Gather your friends and family across the country and pause with us for a national moment of silence to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.


May God bless those who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us, and may He bless and protect those who continue in the fight to preserve our freedom.


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