Dear Weeping Editor: Happy Memorial Day Weekend? Thanks for my service?
Dear Weeping Editor,
I know you are a combat veteran who is still serving in the reserves. I also know you have personally spent more than 8 years in combat zones. Tomorrow is Memorial Day and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to thank you for your service and wish you a happy Memorial Day weekend. I hope you get to spend some time with your family hitting the sales at the mall. We are going to the lake and grilling out! I will be sure to thank every veteran I know this weekend and also update this in my next book featuring a military character.
Sincerely and without a single ounce of malice,
Kind Klueless Civilian
I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your letter because it gives me an opportunity to point out just how important it can be to perform proper research into any given topic. It is especially important when you don’t personally understand the culture or traditions of a particular group like the military subculture in the US.
I am going to get very real with you. This is the unvarnished truth, so be warned. When you “thank” a veteran for his or her “service” or wish a military member a “happy” Memorial Day on the last Monday in May, here’s what happens. First, there is a silent but very real resentment at the stubborn entitlement you feel to share that particular platitude on this particular day. Second, the ever-widening gulf between veterans and civilians widens a distance exactly proportional to the entitlement you intentionally or inadvertently display while saying it.
I broached this subject a few years ago and was haughtily informed (by a few non-vets) that in their opinion it is “always” appropriate to thank a veteran for his or her service–despite the fact that I, as a still serving veteran, had just informed them it is not appropriate. (Romans 11:8) In fact, they could not be more mistaken. There is exactly one day every single year in the US when it is inappropriate, wrong, often insulting, and actually sometimes hurtful to “thank” a living veteran for his or her military service or to wish him or her a “Happy Memorial Day.”
Living veterans could not feel more uncomfortable than when they are “thanked” for their service on Memorial Day. Say it all day long on the Fourth of July. Thank us on Veterans Day in November. Heck! Thank us on the third Saturday in May which is Armed Forces Day. Did anyone remember that one this past month? But on Memorial Day, we would rather not ever hear those words. The pain those words inflict–or wishing us a “happy” Memorial Day–is a unique pain that someone who verbalizes those phrases on that very day simply cannot understand.
Independence Day falls on the 4th day of July. Veteran’s Day falls on the 11th of November. Armed Forces Day falls on the 3rd Saturday in May. They are all different and distinct from the last Monday in May which is Memorial Day. Yes, the gratitude is “always” welcomed—except on Memorial Day.
On Memorial Day it is actually unwelcome. If cornered, nearly every living veteran I know will manage some polite response along the lines of, “Thanks for your sentiment, but today is not my day.” It may vary. Some will say, “Please don’t thank me today.” Some veterans I know may also choose to set decorum aside and rudely snap something like, “You’re not supposed to thank me today. I didn’t die.”
Undoubtedly, there will be those who won’t want to bother to confront you with the unvarnished truth as I have done. They may mutter, “You’re welcome,” as usual while inwardly shaking their heads at your lack of care and unintentional but still very real disrespect for the meaning of the day, their true feelings, the families of the fallen, and our honored dead for whom as a nation we have created a Memorial Day.
Likewise, the word “Happy” (and its synonyms) and the words “Memorial Day” should never coexist in the same sentence. Would you go to a funeral and declare “Happy Funeral” or would you visit a friend on the anniversary of the death of a loved one and express joyful sentiments at the death? Or would you respect that it is a time of appropriate grief? It’s a day of remembrance. In fact, the “National Moment of Remembrance Act,” specifies that every American should pause for one minute at 3 p.m. in their local time on Memorial Day each year, wherever he or she is, and reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who died defending the freedoms and values the living enjoy in our nation.
I think some of the confusion may be because most American’s typically take advantage of the three-day weekend by hitting some Memorial Day sales, then fire up the BBQ grill or head to the lake, just like Independence Day weekend.
But on Memorial Day weekend, you see, some American’s don’t head to the nearest water park. Some visit cemeteries, plant flags, decorate gravestones with flowers or wreaths, or visit the families of the fallen. For those Americans, Memorial Day isn’t the time to show gratitude to people who are currently serving, and it’s not a day to honor the living who have served in the past. It’s not for veterans, and it’s not for current members of the Armed Forces. Memorial Day is a time to honor those who lost their lives in military service.
For combat veterans and their families, specifically, Memorial Day is often painful. It is sad. It is not a day to celebrate, hit the stores, fire up the grill, or anything like that. It is a day set aside to reflect and mourn. It is a day where families gather at Section 60 in Arlington National Cemetery. Circling around a white headstone, they will have a picnic with an absent father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, or dear friend.
To properly thank a veteran this Memorial Day, may I suggest you visit one of the many national cemeteries and join the folks you see there in placing flags, flowers, and wreaths on the graves of those who truly deserve our thanks. To find a national cemetery near you, go here: https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/listcem.asp
It may be that no one has ever bothered to be this frank and truthful with you about this topic. I understand. It is not something that is easy to understand or discuss outside of the military subculture. I do encourage you to ask me anything like this. I will always be truthful on every topic, even if the truth is “I don’t know” or not necessarily a truth you enjoy or expected.
On this specific topic, honestly, the day will not be a happy day for me or thousands of others, but I do not want that to subtract from your joy. Like my brothers and sisters in arms, I will spend that day honoring men I served beside who lost their lives for this nation. I will ask that you respectfully refrain from thanking a veteran tomorrow or wishing anyone a “happy” memorial day, simply out of respect for the larger meaning of the day. I hope I have answered your question fully and explained it truthfully and without rancor.
Additional sources used in compiling and inspiring this article:
Gregg Bridgeman is the Editor-in-Chief at Olivia Kimbrell Press. He is husband to best-selling Christian author Hallee Bridgeman and parent to three. He continues to proudly serve in the US Armed Forces and has done so in either an active or reserve capacity for more than twenty years as an airborne and air assault qualified paratrooper, earning a Bronze Star for his service. Most importantly, he was ordained in October of 2001 after surrendering his life to Christ decades earlier.