“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
— Winston Churchill
Memorial Day in the United States is one of those holidays (last Monday in May) that people who have not served in the military do not know how to celebrate. It is easy to honor veterans (Veteran’s Day 11 November) through simple appreciation via words of gratitude or providing them a discount for a lunch. There is a holiday for our active duty service members (Armed Forces Day third Saturday in May) that most people do not even know exists let alone celebrate. Many Americans though want to show their appreciation to the ever decreasing percentage of our population who join the military and an even smaller group who are killed or die in military service. Of course there will be confusion with these holidays at the appropriate manner as many of those in the U.S. who owe their freedom do not understand the the context in which they should commemorate.
The phrase to best summarize Memorial Day commemoration would be solemn reverence. By definition:
solemn: very serious or formal in manner, behavior, or expression
reverence: honor or respect felt or shown : deference. especially : profound adoring awed respect. : a gesture of respect (such as a bow)
This definition should sound very familiar for those who grew up in a church-going family: it describes an act similar to that of a religious or spiritual commemoration of individuals using methods of honest and serious reflection. Individuals are required to slowly approach the topic entering a mindset to comprehend the actions other individuals have taken that have impacted one’s life. Contemplation in this manner is done through sacrificing one’s time (even the smallest amount) to reflect on things that are not oneself. Prayer or meditation in the religious/spiritual ceremony is most commonly used to focus energies and attention towards something bigger than themselves.
These two words are the opposite of modern U.S. society involving never-ending dopamine hits of social media, sports, political fighting, 24-hr news cycle, sex, and multiple forms of entertainment. As a society, we have become more informal and irreverent as we are increasingly more unable to slow our lives down to examine things that are bigger than ourselves. Our worship services reflect this trend as much solemn formal events have been replaced with concert-like activities that could be best described as the opposite of solemn reverence. Military behaviors have also trended in the direction as many heritage items in daily activities no longer include simple reverence or solemnity including something as simple as our uniforms. Of course Americans do not understand how to best commemorate Memorial Day when they do not practice or understand
This article is not one of those “It was better back in the old days” discussion, but one focused on how the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Memorial Day has become another 3 or 4 day weekend with holidays, BBQs, visiting families, and never ending sales.
Many cities commemorate those perished individuals through ceremonies at military or civilian cemeteries. Local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFWs) and American Legion groups organize events where locals can (in a very similar method to that like a church service) reflect together on the events of the past. These continue to these days, but do not garner as much attention in the multiple activities of the weekend. Perhaps as a society we have become so overwhelmed with daily life that devoting a holiday to deep reflection would be too much on a fragile mindset; that is understandable.
One benefit of being stationed in North Dakota was witnessing the small town Memorial Day ceremonies. This author volunteered to speak at a VFW ceremony that lasted for a hour and included a lunch afterwards that can best be described as a variation of Sunday church service with fellowship following. Community services allow individuals to reflect together and share if necessary their thoughts of those who have sacrificed. Reflection can also be done on an individual basis and not be advertised to others; similar to our religious/spiritual activities.
Overall though, Memorial Day is a time to slow down, reflect on those who are no longer there with us, and how we can use those lessons learned in reflection in our daily lives. However you commemorate the holiday, excuse your gameplay and take the time to pay respects in a solemn reverent way to the best of your ability, because the ones you remember are not here to do the most simplest of reflections you take for granted.
For 18.9 years, this U.S. Air Force Officer and preacher’s kid has been through many different solemn reverent ceremonies.