Next Monday is Memorial Day, and it holds different meanings for different people.
For many people, it’s the climax of a three-day weekend where the unofficial start of summer takes place. There’s beer, barbecue and bikinis making up an unholy trinity. Bzzzzt! Wrong! Thank you for playing, and we have some lovely parting gifts for you.
Other, smarter people find it to be a time to honor the men and women who have fought for our freedom, the people we proudly call veterans. While we should always love and honor our fighters, Memorial Day is not specifically geared toward all veterans—that’s why we have Veterans Day. Memorial Day is to honor those who paid the ultimate price, who cashed in all their chips to ensure we have the freedom to make total asses of ourselves in the backyards and on the lakes of America.
I saw something online this week that reminded me of this distinction. There wasn’t a name attached to this piece, but the scribe expressed appreciation to the people who wanted to honor him on Memorial Day but felt the laurels needed to go to the soldiers who didn’t make it home. That was the original purpose for Memorial Day, which was originally Decoration Day when it was first implemented in 1868.
Obviously, it’s not for the veterans who perished on the battlefield today. Since the Civil War, many veterans have died from natural and unnatural causes. Mental and physical illnesses have claimed countless people who returned home from war. Some have survived sniper fire and suicide bombings only to come home and get gunned down by some two-bit gang member who doesn’t want to pay for a pack of cigarettes in a convenience store.
Working at a newspaper office, I’ve seen a few items related to Memorial Day cross my desk. One of those items was about a local restaurant offering free meals to veterans who present military identification. It’s a very nice gesture and the least we can do for veterans, but I think an even grander gesture would be to offer free meals to the families of veterans who have died serving our country. A cursory look on the Internet on any given day will show you news on families struggling to make ends meet with only one income because the spouse was killed by the Taliban or some other enemy of freedom.
We should honor our veterans every day. They did something most of us were unwilling or incapable of doing, and they did it knowing full well that they could die at any given moment. When Monday rolls around, let’s honor those who died for our freedom, and let’s do it with those who are still alive by our side.