With Memorial Day coming, I thought of an article that I read that discusses the differences between the commonly confused days of Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Memorial Day is typically celebrated on the last Monday in May. This holiday is set aside to pay tribute to those who died serving in the military. In fact, some folks will visit cemeteries and memorials on this day. Additionally, some cemeteries will host some type of ceremony of remembrance. Some may even bring flowers to the graves of the fallen, which was Decoration Day when the tradition of decorating graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers began.
The VA’s national cemeteries may even host activities that will honor the fallen, thousands of men and women who have died during military service. National cemetery staff and and volunteers usually place American flags on each grave.
For a historical look at how Memorial Day started, the website for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs recounts the start of Memorial Day as this:
“Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans–the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)—established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that the date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.”
The passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971 by Congress made it an official holiday.
Veterans Day is a federal holiday that falls on November 11, and it is designated as a day to honor all who have served in the military. According to military.com, “Veterans Day began as Armistice Day to honor the end of World War I, which officially took place on November 11, 1918. In 1954, after having been through both World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd U.S. Congress–at the urging of the veterans service organizations–amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word ‘Armistice’ and inserting the word “Veterans.”
Due to approval from legislation on June 1, 1954, November 11 became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.
With these major days that we recognize, I think it is important to know that we should honor veterans beyond Veterans Day. We should remember the fallen on more than just Memorial Day.
Go beyond the holidays.
There is a constant, sensitive focus on veterans and their needs. There should be careful attention paid to the jobs, health care, and resources for families of veterans and their caregivers.
Strike up a conversation with a veteran. I am amazed every Monday (well, the 10 weeks of Mondays that allow me to visit with veterans in a creative writing group). A simple conversation can mean so much. Try to get to know a veteran in a meaningful way. I believe there is a w i d e cultural gap between many Americans who have no relationship with a veteran or someone who has served their country. We need to fix that.
Avoid the stereotype. Paul Rieckhoff says, “Veterans are very often stereotyped into two stock characters: the crying wounded or the guy who jumps the White House fence to get to the President.” He also adds, “Please don’t treat us like victims. We’re not broken. We’ve been through a lot, but we’re rising out of it.”
PTSD doesn’t mean that a person will be violent, and not every veteran has PTSD. Each veteran has a unique story. More than likely, their military service has shaped them in profound ways, ways we as civilians may not understand, but they are not the sum total of that time.
Please, please take time to get to know a veteran. They have a lot of lessons to share. War trauma can shape a veteran, and it can also shape their families. Family members have endured multiple deployments, emotional stress, and a lot of ups and downs…they too have a voice and lessons to share.
So, when you gather out in the backyard to fire up the grill, enjoy the day off work, or do whatever it is that people do on Memorial Day–don’t forget the reason why there’s such a day–pay tribute to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.