Memorial Day is a difficult holiday for me. The recent loss of my friend, Maribel, made it that much more difficult this year.
Memorial Day was established in the aftermath of the Civil War, which saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides, as a day to solemnly remember and honor those who gave their lives in service to their nation. This is distinct from Veterans Day, which came nearly a century later and honors those veterans who are still among us. The distinction between the two holidays, however, has apparently become lost to much of the public in recent years.
As a military brat, growing up on a military base in Germany, that distinction was always clear. The soldiers I saw every day knew what Memorial Day meant on a very personal level, as many of them had lost friends and loved ones. Years later, after I joined the Air Force and saw active service during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, that sense of loss became personal to me, as well.
I never really saw the commercialization of Memorial Day until I was older. Memorial Day was always a somber, quiet holiday for us on base. This couldn’t be more different from what I see today. Every business seems to have ads for Memorial Day sales. Everyone seems focused on the barbecues and parties they have planned. Every time I turn around, it seems some well-intentioned person, yet again confusing Memorial Day with Veterans Day, is trying to wish me a “Happy Memorial Day.” This isn’t a happy holiday for me, and, really, it never has been.
I don’t begrudge those who, unaware of the deeper meaning behind the holiday, carry on as if it were no different from Veterans Day. As I said on Facebook the day before Memorial Day this year, “[b]y all means, enjoy your day off, and have an awesome barbecue with family and friends. I ask only that you take a moment to honor the memory of those who sacrificed so much so that you can enjoy those freedoms.” To most Americans, those are just faceless, nameless concepts. To me, the are my friends and former colleagues: Captain Kermit Evans. Senior Airman Daniel O’Brien. Sergeant Maribel Ramos. All served their nation with honor, and while no longer with us in body, will never leave us in spirit.
Farewell, my friends.