Friday , June 14 2024

Why You Should Not Say ‘Happy Memorial Day!’

Why should you not say “Happy Memorial Day” this weekend? Because it is not Halloween, Thanksgiving, or someone’s birthday. It is not a “happy” occasion at all. Yes, this weekend is the unofficial start of summer, which many people – including my children – feel is a very happy occasion. However, the actual reason we celebrate is far from joyous.

Why We Celebrate Memorial Day

So why do we celebrate Memorial Day? Memorial Day is an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. This is a day of respect for the dead, a rather somber and sacred day for people who have loved ones or friends who have died while working to protect us whether on land, in the skies, on the waters, or overseas.

My father visiting a fallen friend’s grave at a cemetery in France, 1945.

Learning Why This Day Is Not Happy

I too in the past have mistakenly wished people a “Happy Memorial Day.” That was until I ran into someone selling Buddy Poppies outside our local post office last year. Buddy Poppies are sold by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and help finance veterans’ needs in rehabilitation, service programs, and the VFW National Home.

The older gentleman wearing a hat with “WWII Veteran” written on it looked up at me with a somber face and held up a poppy. He quoted from “In Flanders Fields,” the great poem by John McCrae, who served and died in World War I: “‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.’ The poppies in the poem were growing in a graveyard for American soldiers who died in battle. There is nothing happy about that, son.” Needless to say, that changed my thought process very quickly.

I should have been more conscious of what I was saying. I felt like telling the man that I had visited Normandy, had seen all those graves, that I understood the sacrifice made by Americans and other troops as they came in on those beaches below the cemetery where many of them were cut down as they came off the boats, but I had carelessly used the word “happy” anyway, and I apologized for doing so as I paid for my poppy. I knew better now.

Tribute to the unknown soldiers at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, France

What Should We Do on This Day?

Most of us would not walk into a wake or a site of worship for a funeral and start greeting everyone with the word “happy.” That same protocol should be observed on this day. So then, you might ask, “What should I do on this day?”

The article “5 Things Not to do on Memorial Day,” gives solid advice. The first thing on the list is not to wish anyone “Happy Memorial Day.” It is also suggested to not thank people currently serving – they are alive, after all – not to disregard the importance of the day, not to forget about the day, and not to let politics of any kind distort the day’s importance. As my father often told me, “Being patriotic is not political.” I have never forgotten those words.

Remembering Memorial Days Past

My father marching as Uncle Sam in a Memorial Day parade in the late 1970s.

In the past when I was growing up we celebrated this day by going to or marching in our local VFW parade. For many years my father dressed as Uncle Sam for the occasion, and then we would go back to the local hall and have hotdogs and hamburgers served with pitchers of beer and soda. All those men and women who had served were “happy” in the sense that they had survived their service, even those who were sitting in wheelchairs. But none of them talked about their bravery and, when asked about it, a solemn expression would come over their faces, and it was time to move on.

Enjoy the Day for What It Is

So, this Memorial Day 2024, please don’t wish anyone a “Happy Memorial Day.” It is especially hurtful to anyone who has lost someone in service to their country. Instead, if you are so inclined, mark the day by flying the flag, attending a parade, and applauding those who are in it.

Go home and have your barbecue and let your kids play in the yard, and remember that those who died did so for all of us, just as those in the service of their country now are currently protecting us. Another year of safety and freedom are worth celebrating.

About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His new novel, 'Unicorn: A Love Story,' is available as an e-book and in print.

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