Each year on the last Monday of May, our country looks forward to a long weekend where they can relax, maybe throw a barbecue, and spend time with family and friends. While it’s essential to spend time doing things we love with the people we love, the real reason for celebrating Memorial Day weekend has been glazed over by many. Known as the day that we honor those in the military who sacrificed their lives for our country, Memorial Day is one of the most important holidays we celebrate. We must remember the importance of being intentional in how we spend it.
In 1971, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday, but the origins of this day can be traced to the end of the Civil War in 1865. After that war, it was noted that General John A. Logan called for a day of remembrance or, as he stated, a day with “the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
Soldiers don’t choose their lifestyle carelessly when deciding to serve in the military. Outside of grappling with the uncertainty of life and death daily, they willingly sacrifice time with their family and friends for weeks, months, and years at a time to serve our country; when they’re deployed, their communication is limited, and they often don’t know when they will see their loved ones again.
Becoming a soldier requires not only immense physical strength but mental strength as well. In the military, they refer to it as resilience, or mental toughness, which allows them to enter a headspace where they can better prioritize stimuli in their surroundings and gear up for their hardships. Thinking about all of the preparation and risk these heroes take to serve our country, it’s the least we can do to ensure that we are correctly acknowledging their work and honoring the fallen.
For this year’s Memorial Day, here are ways that you can intentionally showcase your gratitude and respect for those who sacrifice so much for our freedoms:
- Visit and support military memorials and museums in your area. When thinking about how we can honor those who have fought for our freedom, educating ourselves on what exactly they fought for, whose freedom they were protecting, and the circumstances they had to endure is important. Visiting monuments and museums allow us to understand the larger picture of what it means to be a soldier and the long history of loyalty soldiers have towards our country.
- Visit cemeteries and gravestones of soldiers and leave flowers and flags. Bringing flowers and flags to cemeteries is an act that ensures no soldier goes unforgotten on this day.
- Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance. At 3 pm your local time, spend one minute in silence to remember the fallen heroes. Although one minute doesn’t seem like a long time, it is a grand showcase of solidarity.
- Consider writing a condolence letter to families who have lost someone in combat. There’s a chance that someone close to you has lost a family in active duty, or there is a support group in your area for grieving military families. Sending them a letter of support shows how much you care and lets them know someone is thinking of them during these hard times.
- Make a DIY poppy flower pin to wear throughout the day. The poppy flower has long been a symbol of hope and remembrance. It was first associated with Memorial Day after the First World War when Canadian poet John McCrae wrote “In Flanders Fields” to recognize the fallen buried under fields filled with poppy flowers.
After John McCrae wrote “In Flanders Fields,” he wrote the poem “The Answer.” While “In Flanders Fields” showcases how fallen soldiers still urge those living to keep fighting for their cause, “The Answer” has a complete shift in tone. It is a message to the fallen that their sacrifices will not go unseen, and they are free to rest; the concluding stanza says:
Sleep peacefully, for all is well.
Your flaming torch aloft we bear,
With burning heart an oath we swear
To keep the faith to fight it through
To crush the foe, or sleep with you
In Flanders Field
As we make plans for this year’s Memorial Day weekend, remember to stop and pause and think about how we spend time with those we love. Think about the soldiers who have helped fight for our country and well-being and remember those we lost in that fight.