Grateful Memorial Day

Table of Contents

    Musing: A Grateful Memorial Day

    Last Friday, a well-wisher stated, “Happy Memorial Day.”

    Though the person meant no disrespect, the phrase disconcerted me. It’s actually quite common and I expect to see or hear it dozens of times this weekend. Of course, I said nothing other than offer my hopes for the person to enjoy their long weekend.

    To me, though, this isn’t a holiday to celebrate. It’s a time to reflect. To be grateful. To show our respect.

    We thank those who have served in the armed forces on Veterans Day and those currently serving on Armed Forces Day. We set aside Memorial Day to honor those who have given their lives in the service of their country. That sacrifice is awe-inspiring.

    Like most people my age, I grew up with the Vietnam War raging in the background. I remember snippets on the news of helicopters landing in dense jungles and loading or unloading personnel. We swapped stories we’d heard on TV. Through it all, though, I was too young to feel the losses.

    By the time I reached high school and draft age, the war was a memory. My peers who went into the military served through a mostly peaceful period. We watched parts of the world flare up in conflict, but also witnessed hopeful signs like the fall of the Berlin Wall. Attacks on our brave men and women were relatively rare, devastating but brief, at least to a stateside audience who had become accustomed to peace. 

    Beirut. Somalia. Panama. The biggest military loss of life, during the repelling the invading Iraqi army from Kuwait, came with an overwhelming military success. The world through these decades continued to be an unstable place, but it was mostly there, not here.

    And then came 2001. In a single morning, our illusion of safety came crashing to an end. They had attacked us in way more reminiscent of Pearl Harbor than anything since. War was coming.

    In the following years, I encountered countless soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in airports and on airplanes. I listened to the nervous chatter of those heading out for their first taste of action. Their youthful voices teeming with bravado bragged of their plans.

    More sobering were the tales shared by the more somber veterans on their return—or heading back for their second or third or fourth deployment. Their words were quieter, confident but careful, as they sat at a bar and softly told me their stories.

    I bought more than a few beers as thanks. When you hear the experience in the voice of a uniformed serviceman, and then see him stare into a nearly empty wallet and debate the price of a drink, what else would you do? It was, to put it mildly, the absolute least I could do. Especially since the few dollars they had sat beside the photo of their girlfriend, wife, or kids left behind. In one memorable case, the photo was of a dog, the man’s partner, waiting for him in Afghanistan.

    But the moments that took my breath away, or filled my eyes with tears, were when a captain would come on the P.A. of an aircraft to advise that in the cargo hold was a flag-draped box. Someone’s son, brother, or husband was heading home.

    More than once, I hurriedly walked down an airport corridor when movement on the tarmac caught my eye. A patient ground crew stood in formation, accompanied by an escort in military uniform, as they gently handled a crate. I’d freeze and place a hand across my heart, surrounded by other passengers doing the same, as we patiently waited for the quiet ceremony to be complete. Any meeting I was late for paled in comparison.

    I can’t know the pain of loss of a family grieving for a deceased service member. I’ll never understand the anguish of the comrades who fought with them the day they lost their lives.

    But I can pause this day as I whisper my thanks. I can hope their loved ones feeling that personal pain of loss know some comfort this day.

    So pardon me if I don’t wish you a Happy Memorial Day. I’ll say, instead, that I hope you have a Grateful Memorial Day.

    Gratuitous Dog Photo: Patriotic Boom

    Even Boom can be patriotic

    Even Landon can pause the Boom Boom behavior long enough to pause and express gratitude on Memorial Day.

    Until Next Monday

    Be grateful for our service members, our veterans, and, most of all, those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

    If you have questions or thoughts, drop them in the comments below.

    See you next Monday.


    1. JEAN BURKHARDT on May 29, 2023 at 8:16 am

      This article made me pause because I have been one to say those words which SHOULD be grateful instead of happy. My Dad was in both WW1 and 2 and thankfully he came back. I hope to remember this as long as I live-” Grateful Memorial Day” to all those who served .

      LOVE Landon’s pose!

    2. Pat and Rambo on May 29, 2023 at 9:34 am

      Landon’s pose is perfect for this special day. Four of my uncles (three were my Dad’s brothers) served in WWII and thankfully all came home. I agree with you that Memorial Day is not a “Happy” day. It is a day to remember and pay tribute to those that did not come home from war. Thank you for reminding people of the reason for Memorial Day.

    3. Susan on May 29, 2023 at 11:58 am

      My grandfathers were too young to serve in WWI and didn’t serve in WWII. One of them injured his leg as a child, and it healed shorter than the other one, so he was unfit to serve. The other one tried to enlist, but he was a meteorologist for the National Weather Service and had been a teacher before that. So he was told he was more valuable training civilian weather observers than serving in the military. He was 39 when the US entered the war, so that might have been a factor.

      My maternal grandmother had young children, so she stayed home. My paternal grandmother took a man’s job running a billing machine for the Kansas City utilities department, and that’s all I know about that.

      My father and his brother were too young to serve, but they helped harvest wheat on my great uncle and great aunt’s farm because there were no grown men to do it. Both of them served in the military in the 50s, but they weren’t in combat.

      My uncle was in combat in Vietnam, and was wounded, but he survived to come home, go to college, marry, and raise a family.

      And yes, on 9/11, I think I understood for the first time how my grandparents felt when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

    4. chris on May 29, 2023 at 1:45 pm

      Thank you so much for this article. Being married to a veteran, it is very frustrating to see most people forget all the sacrifices that our service members have made so we have the freedoms we do today. Most people just want the day off and to drink and barbeque. I was looking out my window today and saw a motorcycle drive by with a casket draped in a flag behind it. I got shivers and thought it was a very good message for today. I am not sure if they were in a parade or not because I am out in the country but I think more people need to see what I saw.

    5. Barbara L Bennett on May 29, 2023 at 11:34 pm

      Beautifully stated, D.K. Thank you very much.

    6. Julie on May 29, 2023 at 11:57 pm

      My husband was raised by his grandparents. Both served in WWII -his grandmother was a Navy Wave. They met while stationed in San Francisco and married shortly after. Her stories about the Navy Waves were so interesting. Wish I had written more down.

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