For most of the United States, Memorial Day is the start of the summer, a three-day weekend, and a chance to get the grills out. It’s burgers and pool openings and beach trips. And surprisingly, it’s one of the few things in American culture and life that is not controversial or a cause for intense philosophical discussions.
And yet… for military families, Memorial Day often can feel like a flash point of the military-civilian divide.
Many currently serving military families honor people they personally know who have died during service. For many military families, the celebrations, sales, and beginning of summer hoopla can feel disrespectful to the honor and memory of the service members they’re grieving on the day. Staples of Memorial Day celebrations–sales, picnics, and parades–are often at loggerheads with how military families think the day should be observed. For other military families, saying “Happy Memorial Day” is a well-meaning but tone-deaf example of how large the military-civilian divide really is.
I asked the Jo, My Gosh! community to share their thoughts about Memorial Day. Not suprisingly, their opinions are as varied and different as the people who make up the US military.
Here’s what they said:
1. Your choice on Memorial Day is not mine
My husband has lost more friends than I have, but we both have names and people that we remember this day. Everyone does that in their own way. I may be a little sad and nostalgic, but most service members celebrate by having a beer to honor their missing friends. Some towns celebrate with a parade. Some family members remember with a picnic or BBQ. So I would never tell someone how to celebrate or what to do, as long as their intention is to honor the service members who died in previous wars. – Lizann, Seasoned Spouse
2. Remember that Memorial day is hardest for Gold Star families
My gold star mom friend has a celebration of her son’s life on Memorial Day at section 60. But it’s still not happy. 14 years hasn’t lessened that pain, she’s learned to live with it. As a former Arlington Lady, I saw it so often when I’d go to section 60 to visit those I was honored to serve, and the wives and children were having a glass and remembering. – Karen
3. Know about the holiday
I want other people to know the meaning and why the holiday is observed. It’s okay for us all to gather and enjoy having the time off, nothing wrong with a beach weekend or BBQ. Just make sure the meaning of the day isn’t lost on us. It’s the respect that we’re paying forward. -Lindsey
4. Your celebrations don’t offend me
I don’t have a problem with going out and having fun this weekend, we do too but at least know why and what Memorial Day is all about. -Julie, Soldier’s Wife, Crazy Life
5. Here’s how to thank service members
Stop thanking veterans for their service on this day; rather, thank them for their friends sacrifices. -Rose
6. Don’t disgrace the Memorial Day weekend
The weekend is not meant for partying, getting drunk and disgracing the true meaning There is nothing wrong with spending time with family and having a cookout but still take some time to have a moment of silence , reflect, visit a memorial, celebrate with dignity to honor the sacrifice, do something kind in the name of the fallen . -Sierra, The Daily Impressions
7. We don’t celebrate Memorial Day at all
Our family always thinks it’s weird that our town doesn’t have a parade and we don’t celebrate. It’s hard to make them understand that it’s not a day we feel like celebrating but a day we reflect and feel for those families. It’s more of a somber day in our home for us and a day we reflect. -Jenah
8. Memorial Day is not a happy day
My husband is the serving spouse, not me, but he often feels frustrated when people tell him, “Happy Memorial Day” typically followed by, “thank you for your service.” Any appreciation for his service is thoughtful, but Memorial Day isn’t “happy” for us and we want to spend it remembering and honoring those that have died serving their country. -Hannah
9. Reflect on the meaning of the holiday
Memorial Day was borne of tragedy, and while people can and SHOULD celebrate the day, they should understand they’re celebrating the lives of those lost while serving. . . I hope that I stay as blessed as I have been to never have to celebrate my service member or any family members on this day. -Christa
10. It’s okay if you don’t want to observe Memorial Day
It’s okay if you don’t go to a parade or a memorial. It’s okay even if you don’t think about people who died or honor those who died. No one should be forced or guilted into observing Memorial Day. That’s part of our freedom as Americans, too, and that’s also a freedom that service members fight to protect. -Sarah
11. Learn more about the people who gave their lives
I wish schools would take the opportunity to have students do a project/research for Memorial Day. There are so many names listed on the monuments (DC or local) and even more that aren’t. -Amanda