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Memorial Day: Commemorating our Fallen Since 1971

By: Kait Gillen

I was barreling down the road on my morning commute when a large sign caught my eye. It read: “Happy Memorial Day. Thank you for your service.” I felt a deep eye twitch set in and began an internal monologue of frustration which, naturally, I will now share with all of you.

Maybe it’s because I work in PR, maybe it’s because I’m a military spouse, or maybe both, but the message “Happy Memorial Day” simply doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not because there can’t be one ounce of happiness on Memorial Day – many families will use the day to celebrate the memory of their service member (they may even have a barbecue), it’s because there are so many other, better ways to convey the gratitude, respect and importance of the day. The very purpose of Memorial Day is to honor our fallen service members: to remember their life, duty and sacrifice, and think of the ones they have left behind. Some may feel happiness on that day, as they move through the stages of grief; others may still be feeling very raw and new pain – and on this day, happiness simply may not be achievable.

Furthermore, Memorial Day is not for currently serving military or veterans; it is not a day for you to thank them – we have specific days set aside for both of the aforementioned groups. This is the one day that we are meant to recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and mixing these two messages only dilutes its impact for those who deserve to be honored. I get it—it’s hard to separate the two; it’s hard to write those stark, simple, but important messages that say: “We remember,” but this is the exact purpose Memorial Day serves.

We’ve been at war for two-thirds of my life. The country has been fighting the Global War on Terror for 17 years and counting. These types of endless conflicts shape generations, and should, in turn, shape a culture. But it seems even after decades of war, this information and insight still escapes a large portion of the population. The military community is not ungrateful for the tributes they receive, but after so many years of war, thousands have lost their lives and it’s for them that we advocate awareness.

So, here’s the thing – I’m not going to rip that sign down, or yell at someone who thanks my husband for his service on Monday; I can recognize that most people are well-meaning, and I appreciate that. But what I appreciate even more is those who take the time to understand what this day means – not for myself, but for those who deserve to be honored and remembered in the highest regard, and for the families they have left behind.

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