Memorial Day -- it is a holiday many Americans celebrate by spending time with loved ones and enjoying the May weather.
But how might some of the more than 21 million U.S. veterans view and celebrate one the country’s most somber holidays, which was created to remember the men and women who died fighting for their country?
Retired U.S. Army Gen. Bob Drolet said conflict in the Middle East should be recognized for what it has meant for American Armed Forces.
“People... giving their lives almost on a daily basis,” he told WHNT. “So you have to have a day where you remember the sacrifices.”
And there are many sacrifices to remember. According to findings from the Pew Research Center, since Sept. 11, 2001, about half of U.S. vets have served alongside a comrade who was killed, with that number rising for men and women in combat.
And because of those firsthand horrors experienced in battle, many soldiers and veterans spend Memorial Day a bit differently than the average American might.
Take Capt. David Danelo, the author of “The Return” and a Marine Corps infantry officer who served in Iraq. “I’m proud to be a civilian and I’m proud to be a Marine,” he said.
Danelo said that on Memorial Day, he not only remembers his fallen comrades, but goes to visit the graves of those who may have been forgotten.
“There’s one cemetery in Philadelphia that has a Civil War veteran who I’ll go see. He’s long been forgotten and nobody thinks about him. I just walk around there and pay my respects to (his) memory,” he said in an interview with Legacy.com.
The “Flags In” ceremony is another way a lot of soldiers commemorate Memorial Day: placing flags on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery.
“It’s kind of an emotional process to know, ‘cause I feel connected to each one of these soldiers that served before me. So it’s kind of like a brotherhood thing. We just want to take care of our brothers and sisters, make sure they look good,” Pfc. Michael Samuel told USA Today.
But still, at least for wounded retired Army Staff Sgt. Luke Murphy, there is a feeling that civilians could make more of an effort to pay respects to fallen soldiers.
In a CNN op-ed piece Murphy gave an emotional account of losing his friend and fellow service member Sgt. 1st Class Jason Bishop while serving in Iraq.
Murphy wrote, in part, “When soldiers die, they don’t just roll over and quit like in the movies. They fight like hell. ... And sometimes they lose. The biggest loser is the family, though. ... The next biggest losers are the guys who were with the soldier. Many times they’ve got survivor’s guilt. ... So, what do nonfamily members and nonveterans think about on Memorial Day? Sometimes I think they just don’t give a damn.”
Murphy suggests that people who want to show respect for members of the military make a donation to organizations such as Homes for Our Troops. That’s the program that built Murphy and his family a new home that is accessible for someone with his injuries.
However you choose to spend Memorial Day, try to remember why the holiday exists.
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