We visited a local thrift store this afternoon, and I noted a sign on the door alerting customers that the establishment will be closed Monday for Memorial Day. The sign upset me, though not immediately and not for the sentiment. As a Veteran, I appreciate their acknowledgement and thank them for their wishes. I was concerned about the reasoning for the closure: “To give thanks to all those who have served in the Armed Forces.” This is a common confusion, and I couldn’t shake the misunderstanding. I had to tell someone.
I explained the error to the very gracious cashier. I’ll paraphrase:
ME: “No big deal, but your sign for Memorial Day is incorrect.”
HER: “How so?”
ME: “Memorial Day only memorializes those who have died in combat. It’s Veteran’s Day that celebrates all vets.”
HER: “Oh, okay. I didn’t make the sign.”
ME: “I figured. I just needed to vent.”
Then, from behind me, another employee piped in rather directly”
SHE: “Uhm…my husband is a veteran, and he would disagree with you. He says that Memorial Day celebrates all veterans because a little part of all of them died when they left home. Of course, those who returned got it back. But, still. They and their families all suffered loss. So, yeah.”
MY WIFE: “So, what’s Veteran’s Day, then?
SHE: “Oh, that celebrates all veterans.”
Oh…kaaay. So, SHE was half-right. Because, not only is there a difference, but to not recognize that difference is to trivialize the cost paid by those who fell.
First, Memorial Day was established in 1868, just after the Civil War. It began, as “Decoration Day,” and in some areas of the country, especially the South, Decoration Day celebrations still take place in the middle to late spring. Memorial Day only memorializes those who have died while in active military service. People like me did not earn this highest honor, so we do not deserve the recognition.
Veteran’s Day, on the other hand, honors any and all members of the Armed Forces, dead or alive, whether they served in combat or served potatoes in the mess hall. In recognition of the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson initially proclaimed November 11 to be Armistice Day, which was changed to Veteran’s Day in 1954. This is the brotherhood to which I belong, and I/we thank you for your support, honor and respect.
Some might say, “Okay, but shouldn’t we be honoring veterans every day, anyhow?” To this, I’ll agree: 364 days every year, we can celebrate, honor, remember and give thanks to every person who has served, is serving or has given his or her life in service of our country.
However, the last Monday in May has been set aside strictly for those who died while committing that service. This one day is theirs. Please honor them and let them have this day.
Here’s a little helper: there are only two Billy Ray Cyrus songs that I like. One is “Burn Down the Trailer Park” because it’s a great song. The other is “Some Gave All.” Indirectly, it explains the difference between the two: All gave some: Veteran’s Day; Some gave all: Memorial Day.