The True Meaning of Memorial Day

For many of us, memorial day is the unofficial start of summer. It’s the day the neighborhood pool opens. The day the parks, beaches, and amusement areas start filling up. The day the BBQs, picnics, and beach parties begin.

And it’s good that we enjoy these things. After all, it’s for these things that our service members fight.

But while we enjoy these freedoms, we should also take the time to remember why we honor memorial day in the first place.

History.com defines Memorial Day as,

“an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.”

Unlike Veteran’s Day, which honors all of our service members, Memorial Day is special in that it is a day of remembrance.

And for our veterans and for the families and loved-ones of fallen service members, Memorial Day is often a day of honor and pain. A day of remembering. A day of visiting graves and paying tribute to fallen friends and loved-ones.

History of Memorial Day

Memorial Day (formally Decoration Day) was declared a national holiday in 1971 but has been observed since the end of the American Civil War.

And while the tradition of visiting the graves of fallen soldiers began sometime during the civil war, the first recognized formal observance was held in May 1868 and annually after that.

The first recorded observance, however, actually occurred three years earlier, just after the end of the war. It was held by freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina in honor of fallen union soldiers.

If you’re interested in learning more, this post from History.com is an excellent resource.

Memorial Day, Mental Health, and Veteran Suicide

While memorial day traditionally focuses on those who’ve given their lives while in active duty, it’s important that we not lose sight of those who’ve given all in service, whether their sacrifice occurred during active duty or after their service has ended.

Rates of mental health problems and suicide among vets and active duty service members are staggering and and have increased in recent years. Many sources indicate a rate of around 20 suicides per day.

According to an article by Militarytimes on the latest report on veteran suicide rates,

“The rate of suicide among veterans ticked upwards in recent years despite increased public attention and funding on the problem.”

It’s important to note that while this report was released in November 2020, the numbers reflect rates from 2015–2018. Data suggests that these rates have continued to increase and have escalated even more during the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, since May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those who’ve lost their lives in service to this country — both on the battlefield and at home — and we’d like to remember those who are still with us but struggling.

Thank you. And thank you to the families of those we’ve lost. Your sacrifice is not forgotten.

Resources

Honoring The Fallen On Memorial Day

Nonprofits Supporting Veteran & Military Families

Veteran Mental Health & Suicide Prevention

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