“Memorial Day” (from a Combat Vet’s Perspective)

Here’s a quick history lesson: Memorial Day, or “Decoration Day” as it was originally called, was created after the Civil War to pay tribute to the men who died serving in the civil war. Later on, it became “Memorial Day” as we know it today and came to recognize all soldiers/sailors/marines/airmen that were lost during their service.

Judging by the text messages I receive every Memorial Day, somewhere along the line Memorial Day got confused with Veteran’s Day. This kind of bugs me to be honest. If you want to show your appreciation to veterans and can only bring yourself to do it once a year, do it on Veteran’s Day (that’s November 11, or the day the First World War officially ended, another history lesson). By the way, this may just be me but one of the most awkward situations I can find myself in is when someone says, “thanks for your service.” Even if it is sincere and not cliche, I don’t know what to say. If I say, “you’re welcome,” I come off as arrogant, but how do you say, “thank you” for someone having said the same?

Unfortunately – and this is the primary trigger for me writing this post – I can’t remember the last time I heard the words “Memorial Day” used in the context of discussing deceased servicemen. I only hear it used to discuss long-weekend plans, BBQs, camping trips, etc, or worse, in commercials. That’s the big one, folks. I know it happened probably long before I was born, but when did a day to honor men and women who DIED protecting your country become an excuse for the neighborhood furniture store/home improvement store/car dealership’s “BIG FUCKING SALE?” Leave it to Americans to turn a holiday they themselves created to remember fallen servicemen into a chance to make more money or buy more useless shit because they can save $3.

At any rate, back to the original point of this post. Memorial Day is a day to remember those who passed, to take some time to reflect on those who volunteered or were drafted to do things the majority of this country can’t imagine doing and lost their lives in the process. For me, it’s a day to remember Lieutenant Philip Neel, Corporal Steve Raderstorf, Specialist Robert Hendrickson specifically, but also to think about the others whom I saw perish, or arrived on the scene after it was too late, but never had the pleasure of meeting. Unfortunately, given the prevalence of IEDs and vehicle-borne IEDs, this numbers around two dozen even though there were only in a few instances. These men all pop into my head often on normal days, so Memorial Day is more a day of reflection for me. It is also a time to think about those that had it so much worse than me, in Vietnam, Korea, WWII, and prior, and how some of these men and women were never even found.

As far as appreciating veterans goes, do it any time you have the chance. When you see a guy in uniform waiting on a flight at the airport, buy him a beer. If you see a young uniformed woman on leave at church, pat her on the back. When your cousin gets deployed to Afghanistan, send him care packages filled with things you can only get at home. When you see a guy like me, shy and alone at a Starbucks table, wearing one of those goofy black hats that says “[Insert war here] Veteran” with a bunch of shiny pins on it, say hi and shake his hand. If your veteran brother is at home alone wondering why he can’t relate or converse with normal citizens, don’t complain about how you threw a fit when someone forgot to put foam on your iced latte yesterday morning.  We have to deal with the burden of what we’ve seen and done every day, and we rarely see any sort of real appreciation from a country who has all but forgotten that the military exists and that there is still a war going on. But do us a favor, don’t thank us on Memorial Day. Thank those who gave it all.

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2 thoughts on ““Memorial Day” (from a Combat Vet’s Perspective)

  1. I had no idea Americans had two different days. A Memorial Day to remember the fallen, and a Veterans Day to give thanks. I can see why there would be confusion.

    I’m British, we only have Remembrance Sunday (Memorial Day November 11), originally Armistice Day to commemorate, as you said, the end of WWI. We use this day to remember and give thanks to everyone up to the present day. I watch the Cenotaph ceremony every year, it’s an incredibly solemn, reflective and unifying moment, particularly when the bugles sound Last Post. I’m watching the American Memorial Day on Cspan right now…wow, what a contrast.

    Companies actually use Memorial Day to advertise their crap? They actually use the words “Memorial Day Sale”? That would never happen here. It would be considered really, really bad taste. The company would be boycotted and the advert banned.

    The lack of any collective feeling that there is a war going on has a lot to do the military civilian divide that people have been going on about since before 9/11. There’s no draft and less than 1% are in the US military, I can imagine those in combat make up an even smaller percentage. ‘No skin the game’ as Tom Ricks called it. He wrote an excellent article ‘The Widening Gap Between Military and Society’ The Atlantic, July 1997. It’s 16 years old but so relevant today.

    • Unfortunately here in the states, most holidays have lost their meaning and have just become excuses to make money for big businesses. I do think it is incredibly classless, but like you said, the civilian population all but forgets the military exists period. They take way too much for granted, like safety, and forget that there are hundreds of thousands of people working for their safety. And for those people, watching or reading the news and hearing nothing about what is going on in Afghanistan, or Iraq previously, is an ultimate slap in the face. At least for me it is. Such is the American Way I guess. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up living in Australia or something before I’m 40. By the way, I just got back from a weekend trip, and there is more in social media and even here on WordPress about the anniversary of Star Wars than Memorial Day. Yeah.

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