Please Don’t Say Happy Memorial Day

There seems to be a debate over three simple words: Happy Memorial Day. Or maybe the right word is confusion. Are they appropriate? Are they offensive? Are they ignorant? Why could that phrase possibly be any of those things?Happy Memorial Day

Why I don’t say Happy Memorial Day

I watched from the window as they took the body from the plane; thinking how extraordinarily strong those Marines were not to break down as they greeted the family of their fallen brother; the parents waiting to receive the corpse of their child. I watched the coffin, draped in the United States flag as it was removed from the plane and tears fell. I watched the family. I watched. I didn’t know him. I just knew another man gave his life for my country just as the 1.3 million of our military gave theirs before he did. Happy? As I watched, I didn’t see “happy”.

My dad rarely talks about it. He served three tours in Vietnam. I don’t know everything that happened there and while I wish he would tell me, he won’t. I know he lost friends he saw as brothers. I know the battles are beyond what I could comprehend and I know Hollywood may try to reenact it to earn box-office dollars, but they’ll never quite hit the mark. For those who have lived through others dying, it damn well wasn’t “happy”. It still isn’t.

Given our ties to the military, it has started. Just as in years past, people are telling the hubs and me to have a Happy Memorial Day. They thank him, sometimes through me, for his service and they gleefully wish us a GRRREAT!! holiday weekend. The truth? I cringe. I got an email this morning wishing me a Happy Memorial Day weekend and I cringed again.

Guys, here’s the thing. It’s not great. The fact is Memorial Day is not a happy occasion. Now please don’t get me wrong, we realize it’s an innocent gesture with good intentions behind it. It seems most people see Memorial Day weekend as not much more than the start to summer vacation along with a day off from work. They’ll spend their Monday barbecuing in the backyard, maybe frolicking at the beach or looking for the big sales at the mall. For those who run into service-members, they may thank them for their service and wish them a Happy Memorial Day. They’ll likely receive an awkward and forced ‘thank you’ then go on about their business.

Why awkward?

Happy Memorial Day
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Washington, DC

A lot of our military already feel uncomfortable when they’re thanked for their service. Some feel they’re just doing their job and frankly others don’t feel the gratitude is sincere. So on Memorial Day being thanked and wished a Happy Memorial Day for your service while you are still alive and standing it’s difficult and even offensive to some. When you’ve lost your brothers and sisters in arms and you’re wished a “happy” day, it’s awkward and even angering. Memorial Day is not Veterans Day. They are two very different holidays…

Memorial Day isn’t Veterans Day

Memorial Day observes our fallen – those who have given their lives in service to our country. It is a day to take pause, to honor and remember them. It is a time for their families to grieve and celebrate their lives in a way that’s appropriate for them. Veterans Day observes all who have served; those alive and those who made the ultimate sacrifice because they chose to answer the call to duty for their country. While it’s great to have gratitude every single day (and you should) please remember the difference between the two while we remember why we have the day off.

None of this means I don’t hope you enjoy your weekend. I do. It’s just that I hope amongst all of the enjoyment those outside of the military community take pause and remember, too.