What Does Memorial Day Mean (to You)?


U.S. flags stand in front of the graves of fallen service members on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington Va., May 28, 2012. (Defense Department photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Released)

Story by William Selby, Defense Media Activity

As I was walking through the mall a few days ago, I picked up on a conversation between a couple of what I assumed to be teenagers about Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and the meaning of each. They debated which one was to honor veterans; one even saying they thought there was no difference between them.

‘No man, you have to thank veterans on both days. It’s a day to honor their service.’

Well, he was about half right but the problem is they aren’t alone in the misinterpretation of the meaning.

Everyone seems to have their own interpretation of Memorial Day. Most think of Memorial Day as the beginning of summer with Labor Day marking the end. Or as a three day weekend full of BBQ’s, beer and bathing suits. People flock to the beach on Memorial Day weekend to catch some sun, sand and great swimming. Growing up in Maryland, to me it always marked the first crab feast of the year.

To others it may be a day to thank current and past service members. While it is always appreciated to hear those words from a stranger, Memorial Day is not a day to celebrate those of us who serve or have served.

As a Navy veteran, I used to love whenever people would stop me and thank me while I was on active duty. However, I think the true meaning of Memorial Day is lost among the hoopla of the beginning of summer and all of the activities that go with it.

I, too, was ignorant to the REAL meaning until a few years ago. It wasn’t until I went to Arlington National Cemetery one year during Memorial Day weekend bearing witness to the enormous price of freedom. I walked around and looked at the headstones of patriots that loved this country enough to do anything for it. I pictured all of the young men and women who died fighting on foreign soil to push back enemies that would try and harm our beloved Red, White, and Blue. That is what Memorial Day means to me now.

As I explained to the teens at the mall, Memorial Day is a day to stop and remember those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Beginning as a day when Union and Confederate troops honored their dead, it has now morphed into a day in which we honor every service member who has died in service to our country.

I challenge you, if you want to find out what your true meaning of Memorial Day is, to visit Arlington National Cemetery and see the countless families there visiting their loved ones. Visit the gravesites of America’s own superheroes. Then, you will truly understand the significance of Memorial Day.

So, when you are thinking of all the adventures you are about to embark upon this summer, take a moment and remember those who made it possible for you to make your plans. Remember the people who can’t have a BBQ, attend a concert or go to the beach, because they gave their lives so that you and I can.

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