May 26, 2014

Please don't thank me on Memorial Day

Yes, I'm a veteran of the United States Army. No, I never saw combat. But please don't thank me on Memorial Day.

There seems to be a growing, well-intentioned attempt to conflate Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is just that -- a day to remember, or memorialize, those who have died in the service of our country. Veterans Day is a day to honor and thank all who have served, or are currently serving, in the armed forces.

Despite the Memorial Day sales "events" and its status as the unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day is a solemn occasion. Yes, it's a bit incongruous -- like having an All Souls' Day sale at the mall. And I'm not suggesting we all put on sackcloth and ashes and forego the neighbor's barbecue on "moral grounds." But it is important to take a moment to remember those who have died serving in the military. It could be a minute of silent prayer or attending the local parade or visiting a cemetery.

This day should also transcend politics. Whether or not you agree with the military actions taken by our leaders over the years, some of our brothers and sisters have sacrificed their lives for our freedom. And that is well worth remembering, along with the pain and anguish of loved ones left behind.

So please don't thank me for my service today or give me 10% off a donut. This day is about those who are not able to be thanked, but only prayed for.

I'm not sure who wrote the following Prayer for Memorial Day but I think it captures the essence of what the day should be about for people of faith.

Blessings to you all this Memorial Day and may the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in Glory.


Prayer for Memorial Day

God of love and justice, it is your will that we live together in peace. Yet we live in a world in which war often seems inevitable. May we recognize with humility and sadness the tragic loss of life that comes in war. And as we enjoy freedom, we give thanks for those who have served with courage and honor; for those who resist evil and preserve justice.

We give thanks for those that are willing to serve. Let all soldiers everywhere serve with honor, pride, and compassion. Do not let their hearts be hardened by the actions they must take. Strengthen their families and keep them surrounded and guided by your love. We thank you for those that put the welfare of others ahead of their own safety. Let us all be inspired by their self-sacrifice in service to those who need protection.

We give thanks for those that have made the ultimate sacrifice. We ask that you be with those in pain
from their loss and keep us mindful that you have promised to comfort those that mourn and help us to be a comfort to them as well.

And by your grace, may we have the strength and courage to truly honor those who have served by working for peace. May we see in them not only their courage, but also our own call to work for a world that no longer sacrifices life in the quest for peace; that we might envision in our hearts and work in our lives toward that which you have promised through the prophet Isaiah: that day when swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, that day when nation shall not rise up against nation, and that day when we shall not learn war any more. Amen.


Unknown said...

Met a veteran at lunch today who was quite frail and probably not going to be out and about in November when it is cold and icy. Based on his story, he was probably born about 1927. I didn't wait to thank him for his service, and it gave his grandchildren and great-grands a chance to tell his story.

Rev. Lorna Williams said...

Memorial Day is a day to remember our war dead. Yes, it is about loss, which we as a culture have a hard time acknowledging.

Anonymous said...

Where I grew up Memorial Day wasn't just about the war dead. Custom was to put flowers on graves of family--I take this to indicate the growing militarization of our country.

FrauP said...

Au contraire, anonymous, it's the other way around. It started as a way to honor the dead soldiers in the Union Army after the Civil Wary, and spread to 1)honoring anyone who has died and as Tim points out 2)honoring all veterans, living or dead. In church I heard it extended to anyone who had died in a war on either side. Theologically sound, but doesn't make much sense for a National holiday.

Meredith Gould said...

You're right (of course) people do confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day.

This year I got caught up in thinking about what, due to "modern warfare," constitutes "battle" and what does "fallen in battle" now look like?

When I add to that the growing acknowledgement of military-related PTSD among veterans, I feel compelled to honor those whose battle wounds may not be immediately obvious and who have died by suicide as a result of those wounds.

And thinking about that then compels me to thank veterans for serving because one day of that is not enough.

I'm from the generational cohort that got mandatory conscription abolished. I now think we were wrong to do so.

theowlpress said...

Memorial Day initially was a time to remember the dead of the Civil War. I have always thought of it as a day remember our war dead not to thank a veteran for his or her service. We have the rest of the year for that. As a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, I am proud to accept the thanks of country for my service on Veterans Day, which was Armistice Day when I was a child. To me the "celebration" aspect of Memorial Day as the beginning of summer--cookouts, going to the beach, and shooting off fire works as they do in Kansas City, takes away from the solemnity of the day and the sadness of the cost of war.