Memorial Day Rules 2022
Today is the 15th anniversary of me leaving the Army. It is the 27th anniversary of joining the Army. I joined, and left, on May 25. So the numbers are exact. I have always appreciated that both occurred on the same day.
I am two days away from turning 50. And it is 5 days until Memorial Day. In a week or so, Justin will be a rising first grader and Elizabeth will be a rising senior.
There are a lot of big days in a year that has included lots of them.
Memorial Day is one of the more challenging days of the year for me. It is hard because of what it is, and it is made even harder by the fact that so many don't seem to understand what it is.
To help, I have developed this handy list of Memorial Day Rules. I share them every year. I think that they are helpful, and important. And I hope you will consider them as you move into this weekend.
Memorial Day Rules
Know what Memorial Day is.
Memorial Day is a holiday to honor those members of the military who lost their lives in service. It is not about honoring military service (that’s Veteran’s Day) or those who are currently serving (that’s Armed Forces Day). It is about honoring those among us who have given what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion, those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Memorial Day is not about BBQs, or retail sales, or the unofficial start of summer. It is about remembering.
I think that it’s important to point out that the most recent numbers suggest that at least 17 veterans a day take their own life. These numbers come from 2019. The number has almost certainly skyrocketed during the pandemic. Losing veterans to suicide is as worthy of remembrance as any vet who died on the battlefield. And the two are often linked. So I will be remembering vets like Kevin today. He will not show up on a list of war dead. Yet, war took his life from him as surely as it did for Mike, Sam, and the thousands of others who have died in direct combat.
Remember that Memorial Day is hard for many of us.
Think about Rule #1 and the meaning of this day. For many of us, today is about the people we lost. About Sam and Kevin and Mike. Men and women who were family to us. Who ARE our family. Lost and gone forever. Don’t wish me a “happy” Memorial Day. Don’t tell me to “have a great day.” It is a long, hard, painful day full of ghosts and sadness and guilt. And also joy and nostalgia and love. It is complicated for many of us. Respect that.
Don’t thank us for our service.
Seriously. Not on Memorial Day. That is not the day. There is a time and place for that (hint: Veteran’s Day). See #2. Would you want someone thanking you for being a parent on the anniversary of the death of your child? Exactly. It’s not about that. Not Monday.
Do something to directly support vets.
SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS ALONE DO NOT SUPPORT VETERANS. Don’t just pay lip service and virtue signal. Do something real to make a difference. Take a vet out for coffee and listen to their stories. Financially support the work of veterans and veteran owned businesses (you could subscribe to this newsletter, for instance). Give to organizations that are making a real difference for vets (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want ideas). Get to know vets as people. Don’t just say “happy memorial day! smiley emoji” on Facebook and think you’re good. Because you’re not. Do something.
Know that vets are people first.
The veteran community is not monolithic. We have different backgrounds and politics and ideas. Not every vet responds the same way to every situation. Our service helps describe us. It does not solely define us.
If you have met one veteran, then you've met one veteran. Human first, soldier / sailor / airman / Marine second. Especially on Memorial Day, when the line between person and service member can get blurred by loss and sadness.
A little kindness goes a long way. For the vets in your life and everyone else. We can all use more kindness and love. Goodness knows we need it.
Be well all. And have a meaningful Memorial Day.
Take care everyone. And keep pounding the rock.