Americans are a patriotic bunch. Not every American, obviously, but in general, a huge number of Americans are star-spangled and proud. Nothing has made that clearer to me than being married to a member of the military. If Scott is in his uniform (which he is all but six days a month) people fall all over themselves to thank him for his service. They buy his coffee, shake his hand, and share their own stories. He’s not a combat veteran, and he doesn’t pretend to be, but nobody seems to care. He serves the land that they love, and that’s all anyone needs to know.
I would be mortified, but he takes it in stride. He has learned how to acknowledge their thanks humbly.
Except on Memorial Day. That’s the one day a year when he will politely decline all recognition. His service has not cost him his life. He is home, well and safe. Memorial Day is not his day.
Memorial Day isn’t the time to show gratitude to people who are currently serving, and it’s not a day to honor the living who have served in the past. It’s not for veterans, and it’s not for members of the Armed Forces.
Memorial Day is a time to honor those who lost their lives in military service.
Every year, when the last Monday in May rolls around, my aunt tells the story of our cousin Michael who went to Vietnam as a twenty-year-old and came home in a casket. He’s spent his whole “life” buried in Arlington Cemetery.
His only letter home was poignant and powerful, and my family posts the text of that note every year to remind us not that he died, but that he lived. He was gone long before I ever existed, but I know his face. I know his name. I know his story. Memorial Day keeps part of him alive.
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This is a photo of my grandfather’s cousin Mike Deschenes. He died in Vietnam. He was just a kid. 20 years old. #memorialday is coming up. Keep in mind that’s it’s a day to remember the ones we have lost- not a time to thank the ones that are still serving. They have their days, too. This just isn’t it.
Combat veterans all over the country can close their eyes on Memorial Day and see the faces of friends lost on the battlefield. Even my husband, who has not seen combat, has lost a handful of wingmen to suicide, a devastating consequence of combat-related PTSD.
Memorial Day is a time of remembrance for the ones we have lost. Don’t thank a servicemember or veteran on Memorial Day.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever thank them! Veterans and servicemembers who are here and able to celebrate with us have their own days. Let’s talk about those.
The Third Saturday in May is Armed Forces Day.
On the third Saturday of every May, Armed Forces Day gives Americans a dedicated time to thank our currently serving military members. Every airman, soldier, sailor, marine and coast guardsman does their part to keep our military running smoothly. If you want to thank them, Armed Forces Day is a perfect time to do it.
November 11 is Veteran’s Day.
Every November 11, Veteran’s Day gives us a chance to thank everyone we know who spent years of their life in service to our nation. Anyone who ever served in any branch and either retired or left on honorable terms gets a nod on Veteran’s Day. It’s a great time to thank the people you know who are no longer serving.
If you want to throw a quick nod to currently serving members on Veteran’s Day, too, that’s okay. Lots of businesses and restaurants use Veteran’s Day to provide discounts and small gifts of appreciation to active duty military members.
Each branch of the military has their own birthday, too.
Army vets celebrate their branch on June 14. The Coast Guard? August 4. The Air Force was born on September 18, and the Navy celebrates another year on October 13. The Marine Corps gets a year older every November 10. If you want to really wow a veteran or service member, save those dates in your calendar, and thank them for their service on their branch’s special day.
Even as a military wife, I wish that a standing military wasn’t needed. It would be ideal if war and conflict didn’t exist. But they do, so someone has to serve. People who agree to join do so knowing that they might be called upon to give their lives. It’s nice to say thanks for that willingness if you feel like you want to.
Just make sure you’re setting aside Memorial Day to honor the memory of people who lost their lives in service to our country. You can thank a veteran any other time.