Memorial Day is a unique American holiday. It is observed on the last Monday of May and honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. The date was established by an act of Congress under U.S. Code Title 36. It states in part, that it will be celebrated on the last Monday in May. Memorial Day 2021 will occur on Monday, May 31.
Veterans’ Day, however, is the evolution of Armistice’s Day which was celebrated on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month commemorating the close of WWI, the “War to End All Wars.” These holidays specifically celebrate American military service members, “Memorial Day” for those who have served and died, “Veterans Day” is for those who are alive and currently serving.
Of note are two other holidays: Thursday, October 28 is National First Responders Day and May 15 of each year is “Peace Officers Memorial Day. The entire week around this date is identified as “Police Week.”
Each day of recognition has a primary goal that we often overlook when we blend the holidays. I believe that today, more than any other time in our history, we need to take each of these holidays separately and acknowledge them individually. We need to take time in our homes, meeting places and churches to reflect on those who have sacrificed for our national freedoms in the military service and gave their last full measure and the thousands who are buried in foreign lands where they fell. Separately, we should appropriately acknowledge, on their designated day, our first responders and officers in police uniforms who are on the front lines closer to home.
Today, we have several generations of Americans who have not served and are losing the influence and reflection that comes with association with those who have and are serving. Additionally, they have little relationship with the sixteen million personnel who served during World War II. Of the “Greatest Generation,” only 325,500 remain alive, and they are dying at almost 300 each day.
On this Memorial Day let’s rededicate ourselves to honor as appropriate only those who have died. Let’s not mix the special days that are set aside but honor each as appropriate for the freedoms we enjoy on a daily basis in this the Greatest Nation that was founded on Christian principles and blessed by God. These honors and recognitions should come from every area. Churches should be the first to speak from their pulpits of the religious freedoms they have; communities should have public gatherings and ceremonies and individuals should take a moment and solemnly reflect on the sacrifices made to guarantee the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Have a thoughtful Memorial Day.
Quentin M. Thomas
Colonel, USAF (Ret.)