What comes to mind when you think about Memorial Day?
If we’re being honest, for many of us, Memorial Day is about getting a day off. It’s the official herald of summer, signaling the opening of community pools and the permission of the fashion police to wear white again. It’s an excuse to have a barbecue, hopefully get the day off work, and grumble about the banks being closed. Even the more patriotic of us will probably only go so far as observing a moment of silence and sharing a huge American flag photo on their Facebook Feed.
But Memorial Day is a sober holiday. Formerly referred to as “Decoration Day,” this federal holiday was set aside as a day to remember men and women who have died in service of our country. These fallen heroes gave the ultimate sacrifice in their quest to make a difference in the world. So shouldn’t we also seek to make a difference on the one day each year we set aside to honor them?
Here are five ways you can honor fallen heroes on Memorial Day:
1. Instead of heading straight to the local pool… make a visit to a nearby nursing home, or an elderly parent or grandparent, and chat with them for the afternoon. Especially if they are veterans, they may really treasure having someone take time to listen to their stories and experiences.
I have a distinct memory of doing just this sort of thing with my mother. She was a deacon in our church, and many parishioners on her branch were elderly and alone. She would regularly make trips to check on them and visit, sometimes bringing my sister and me along. Once we went to visit an elderly couple; the wife was struggling with dementia, and her husband was her caretaker and loving companion. I remember sitting on the floor of their living room as the gentleman talked to us about his experiences in WWII. He was in Asia for most of his service, an area often overlooked by historians focusing on Hitler and Europe. He had fascinating tales to tell of battles won and lost, and was clearly delighted to have eager listeners for his stories.
2. Instead of splashing the U.S. flag all over social media… give yourself -or your kids- a lesson on the history of the U.S. flag. Research the facts and fictions about Francis Hopkinson and Betsy Ross, and find a timeline describing (or showing!) the various designs the US flag has boasted.
You can also research the proper rules and regulations for handling and respecting an official flag. Displaying proper etiquette of the flag is a wonderful way to honor servicemen and women (both past and present) and the history and traditions of this country. Perhaps even do an Internet search to see if there are any historic flags in your area, and plan a visit.
3. Instead of heading outside and throwing burgers on the grill for your family… offer to cook dinner for the family of a veteran, serviceman, or servicewoman of your acquaintance. It could be a family member, neighbor, or someone who attends your church. Most of us know at least a few people who have served (or are serving) in the military. Food can be the perfect labor of love: it’s a necessary nourishment, but also the perfect opportunity to fellowship and socialize! Especially if you’re not particularly close with the family, this gesture would be hugely kind – and probably something the family would fondly remember for years to come.
(If cooking isn’t your love language, you could always offer to treat them to a dinner out at a favorite restaurant in appreciation of their service.)
4. Instead of using your time off work to sit in front of the television… take an hour to visit the closest National Cemetery and see the graves of fallen soldiers. It’s traditional on military holidays to bring flowers to the grave of a fallen solider, so stop by your local florist and spend a few extra dollars to honor the memory (and grave) of a local hero.
Did you know that many family members of fallen heroes are buried with them in National Cemeteries? Often spouses, children, and even parents of members of the Armed Forces are buried alongside them. There are many somber and fascinating treasures to be found in a graveyard. As you spend a little time in the cemetery, take notice of the little details dotting headstones. Also, look to see what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has planned for your local cemetery on Memorial Day. Their website reads,
“Ceremonies can vary from cemetery to cemetery, and may include parades, speeches, music performances, rifle volleys, bugle calls and wreath layings. Veterans Service Organizations will participate as well as active duty military members, scout groups, government officials and patriotic citizens who wish to pay their respects to those who sacrificed so much for their country.”
5. Instead of heading to the mall to buy a spring outfit… make a donation to a veteran’s or active military care charitable organization. If you want to donate clothes, purge your closets (and the closets of your friends!) and visit a place like ClothingDonation.org. Clothing Donations is a service of the Vietnam Veterans of America, and uses your donations to support Veterans and programs for veterans. There are many similar organizations, and maybe even one in your area!
You can also send love in a practical way to active members of the military through organizations like Operation Gratitude. Since their beginnings, Operation Gratitude has delivered more than one million care packages. You can participate in Operation Gratitude by sending clothing and toys, personal letters to deployed troops, and monetary donations. So take your spending money this Memorial Day to make a difference in the life of a brave man or women serving in the U.S. military.
These are only five ways to make a difference on Memorial Day. Can you think of any others? Make sure to visit our Memorial Day channel!
Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor for Crosswalk.com
Publication date: May 19, 2014
Debbie Holloway is a storyteller, creator, critic and advocate having adventures in Brooklyn, New York.