What is Memorial Day really about?

So, I was surprised and a little saddened that a post I put on Facebook actually garnered almost 40 responses, and many of them were in opposition to my original post.  So before I tell you what my post said, and the opposition I received, I first want to let you all know that I am a military retiree. I spent 20 of my 49 years of life on this earth serving in the United States Navy as a Hospital Corpsman.  I feel that alone gives me insights into military rules, regulations, ceremonies, and  traditions that those who have not served in the military do not have in their toolbox.

Bahrain 2003
Bahrain 2003

For example, it is disrespectful to wear anything on your head in a military medical facility.  It is a sign of respect to the dead to remove your hat when entering, and during your visit to a military medical center.  Also, unfortunately as a Corpsman, I have had to assist my Commanding Officers with the Casualty Assistance Calls Officer program, and have had to personally tell at least 4 families their loved one had died while on active duty.  We were those people who showed up on your doorstep wearing a service dress uniform to be the first to tell you that your loved one was dead.  They didn’t know.  We were required to use the word “dead”.  I had to watch them register disbelief, then shock, then profound despair. It was our duty, and our honor to help the family with funeral arrangements for their service member and help them with benefits, headstones, etc.  It was a heart wrenching job, but one that I did with love and respect for my brothers and sisters and their families.

While serving at reserve centers in South Bend Indiana, and Fayetteville Arkansas I had to attend hundreds of funerals as the military honor guard, and fold flags and present them to loved ones with these sacred words:  “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service”  And had to maintain a straight face, no emotion while doing so.  It was my honor and privilege to do that for them!

However, that all being said, I feel that gives me a certain expertise about military traditions, and honors, especially when it is about days for honoring our service members past and present.  So, when I received some flak on my post I was surprised and a bit taken aback.

I don’t believe in saying “Happy Memorial Day”.  Memorial Day is not about being happy. I do not want people to thank me for my service on Memorial Day, I am still alive.  Memorial Day is a day to salute and honor the men and women who died while serving their country in the military.  My FB post said this: “Memorial Day is not a day to thank Veterans, it is a day to remember those who died and gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving. So please don’t thank me for my service, I am still alive. Thank those who died protecting ours, (and others’) freedoms.”

I received some comments about how it is okay to say “happy memorial day” because maybe people have happy memories of their loved ones.  I received comments about how every day is a good day to thank a veteran.  Comments about how we should realize that even serving in the military is a sacrifice and so Memorial day is about that too.

So, I hate to pull out the “I served for 20 years so I feel like I know more than you do about this subject” card, but that is how I feel.  You may have lost family members, and for that I am incredibly sad for you, but to be honest, (and maybe it is because I was a Corpsman and had to be so close to military death), I feel like that is NOT what Memorial Day is about.  Memorial Day is about the loss of Military lives.

Please use the ENTIRE other 364 days of the year to thank a Veteran for their service, (they deserve our thanks), but NOT Memorial Day.

For a Great history of Memorial Day, here is a link to History.com section specifically about Memorial Day, AKA Decoration Day.

So, yesterday was an interesting day for me, as I waded through comments and tried to best to educate, and enlighten as much as possible about what the day truly means.  I did receive a few private messages from people thanking me for my words, and telling me that they agreed and I had taught them what Memorial Day is really about, so that was heartening.

Today, as I was preparing to write this blog, I came across this video done by a man named Chad Warner.  I think it visually expresses the point I am trying to get across.  This video is specifically geared towards Marines, but works for all branches of the Military. Thank you Chad.

My Memorial Day Tribute……UPDATE… To everyone who has shared this Memorial Video… I am Overwhelmed with Gratitude & Humbled… Thank You for honoring and remembering America’s fallen Heroes this weekend!!! Semper-Fi This is a tribute I created for Memorial Day Weekend…It’s a tribute to my fellow Marines Who Gave All in the pursuit of Freedom…There are actually 3 funerals in this tribute that I attended and I am dear friends with the Marine father who is saluting the casket of his Marine son….God Bless & Remember ALL Our Fallen Heroes This Memorial Day Weekend…

Posted by Chad Warner on Thursday, 2 June 2011