Why we celebrate Memorial Day

It it clear that the last 15 years of constant combat for our military has brought about a new perception of what Memorial Day is about. For years growing up as a military brat, as a peace-time soldier, then a combat veteran myself and then back to being a peace-time soldier again that Memorial Day was a somber day for some but also still a reason to celebrate.

All of that happened before 9/11/2001. Then the day happened and our country was and forever will be changed. We went into combat and are still there 15 years later. This has caused a whole new fresh group of veterans, families and friends who have lost people due to the global war on terror. 6833 Americans to be exact have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and supporting areas. Less than .45% have served in the Global War on Terror but with the reach and speed of social media, more family members and friends are aware of those they knew who were loss than ever before.

Memorial Day has always been considered the holiday to kick off the summer season, just like Labor Day is considered the holiday to close out the summer. However Memorial Day is not a day to celebrate for all, as many are those who have lost someone, but not a majority of the country. All you have to do is look at social media or google Memorial Day memes to see an unlimited supply of reminding people what the day is about. A friend of mine, who is a Gold Star Dad recently stated that every day is Memorial Day for family members and I have no doubt that is the case. I am close enough to family members of fallen *soldiers to know they never take a day off from remembering their loved ones.

This is the same for many of the fallen soldier’s comrades and friends. It is not like I wait all year to remember Kutz, Randazzo, Roustum, Schuster, McLochlin, Deghand, Rodriguez, or many others. I think of them all the time. I see, hear, or sense in some way, something that makes me think of them. In my mind that is the task those of us who lost someone in service to this country take on as part of our love and friendship of that person. Does that mean the rest of the country needs to mourn and be sad all day? I don’t think so. I think this is a day to remember but also celebrate.

I have written several blog posts on here about not saying Happy Memorial Day, and using something like “Blessed”, “Meaningful”, “Honorable Memorial Day” or something else. I still think Honorable Memorial Day is the best phrase to use but I am not going to get pissed or freak over someone saying “Happy”.

I think about it this way; many times (and not just in New Orleans) at funerals there are celebrations of life. These are usually after the grave-side service and they involve celebrating the life of that person. There are tears, for sure, but there are also lots of laughs, and fond memories, etc. When we celebrate those we have lost in combat, should we not do the same thing. Doesn’t it make sense to use this day, this National Holiday to do that? More than one time a year I get together with many of the soldiers I served with to honor those we lost, and even though there is somberness we always tell stories, laugh about funny times and celebrate their memory. So this day is a chance for our nation as a whole to take pause, remember, and also celebrate the lives of those who have died ensuring our freedoms.

I know for a fact that I had not come back, I would not want my family and friends sad and crying all the time. It was my time, and if I died in my service to this country then I would have died doing what I wanted to do. Hopefully it would have been while surrounded by shell casings and lots of enemy bodies, but regardless I would want my loved ones to take every opportunity to enjoy the freedoms this country has to offer. I would want them to crack open beers, laugh, enjoy the sun, eats lots of meat from a grill, etc. Those are the things that make this country great, in addition to many other things. If I died to secure those freedoms then I would want my loved ones, friends, family, and fellow soldiers to do just that. Pay your homage to me by doing what we all love to do.

I am 100% confident the soldiers I know who have been lost in combat would want the same thing. The soldiers, family and even just friends I know who have left this world for whatever reason would want that.

Soldiers are not victims, soldiers were not forced into doing what they did, they had a choice and they knew the risks. All of us who have raised our right hands knew there was a chance we could give our lives and we did so willingly. Not that we want to die for our country as we would hope to live full lives back here in this great country, but if it were to happen, then so be it.

As Veterans it is a double-edged sword, because on one hand we would like our country to have more “skin in the game” in the last 15 years of war, but also it is a weird badge of honor that we have been able to keep the fight away from our shores and the citizens of this county can live in peaceful ignorance, allowing them to worry about the dumbest things in our society.

So there is no reason to feel bad for saying “Happy”, and to my fellow veterans who may read this and get butt-hurt over someone saying “Happy” or for celebrating this day; I ask you to take pause and ponder my words. Think about this say as a day to remember, but also to celebrate. Celebrate the lives of those we know, but also the freedoms we have because of their sacrifice. Just be happy our country takes this pause to even acknowledge our fallen veteran’s sacrifices.

*Soldiers refers to all service members, regardless of branch of service

1 thought on “Why we celebrate Memorial Day”

  1. Without Death this day could not exist. Over the years people have asked me, “What do you say to a Veteran on Memorial Day?”…
    My reply is, “Happy Dead Soldiers Day!’ I do this to make them uncomfortable because of the ubiquitous, disconnected ‘thank you for your service’ I hear nowadays, like it is some salve to the guilt of lack of real involvement with the sacrifice needed to protect every citizens’ breath of fresh air. Realize our ‘service’ is a valuable life lived, full of vitality and drama connected to all of humankind. Even in death.
    Sleep well.
    Combat Veteran 5th SFG MACV-SOG
    Author of ‘Soldier’s Heart: An Inquiry of War’

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