When you talk about Memorial Day – it is common to hear about a long weekend, boating at the lake, and family and friends at backyard BBQs. Greetings of “Happy Memorial Day” and “Thank you for your Service” pass to our veterans in person and across social media.
This is all good, as we should celebrate our freedom to pursue happiness in our lives, and thank those who volunteer to serve our great United States, but what is the true meaning of Memorial Day?
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.”
1,450,808 U.S. Service Members have been killed in combat, from our War of Independence to our conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and our fight against ISIS.
In 2003, I had the honor of serving with three of these great men, as we attacked into Baghdad, Iraq. Sergeant First Class Marshall, Staff Sergeant Stever, and NBC reporter David Bloom, died on April 7, 2003.
This was the first time I saw fellow Service Members die in combat. In my years following, I saw many more.
That first Memorial Day after redeploying was when I really understood what Memorial Day was about. It is not those of us that made it back, but about those we lost, and their families they left behind.
Although honoring our living veterans is right at all times, this day is about honoring our brothers and sisters-in-arms who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for something greater than themselves.
What I’ve also learned is that this day is about those they’ve left behind – the Gold Star Families, their spouses, their parents, their children, their siblings, their friends, and us.
So, is it really appropriate to say, “Happy Memorial Day?” I offer that we ought to be reminding each other to have a “Worthy Memorial Day.”
We ought to be living to ensure that we have earned the right to enjoy the freedoms we so graciously received from those who sacrificed so much for us. Their legacy is their loved ones left behind.
I challenge each of us this Memorial Day, not to thank a veteran, but to ask them about their battle buddies who didn’t make it back. Talk to and thank a Gold Star Spouse, child and parent, and ask them about their veteran who sacrificed for us all.
We honor their sacrifice by talking about their deeds, their relationships and their lives. There is no greater gift we can give their families, and it is exactly what they would want us to do on this day of remembrance.
Denton Knapp is a retired Colonel, and combat veteran, having served 30-years in the US Army Infantry in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently serves as the Director of Goodwill of Orange County’s Tierney Center for Veteran Services.