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Does Military Service Change the Meaning of Memorial Day?

Once upon a time, when I did not know anyone in the military, had not experienced deployment and had not witnessed the meaning of sacrifice, Memorial Day was a time for parties, a few hours of body surfing in the Pacific and a huge fruit salad.

Since marrying into the Army all that has changed. Now Memorial Day is for me a time of reflection, heart swelling pride in my country, fond remembrances of those who have given their all and tears for their families. And while the reality of the holiday doesn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying myself with friends and family, it does change my focus and give me pause.

It’s the same with the American flag and the National Anthem. Just like Andi, every single time I hear or sing the National Anthem tears come to my eyes.

In retrospect I’m surprised by how long it took for this Memorial Day transformation to take place. It wasn’t until after seeing deployment first hand that sacrifice was no longer just about putting up with stateside field absences and weird work hours. Knowing personally so many who had made the ultimate sacrifice made it real and gave it the meaning it should’ve had to start with. Memorial Day wasn’t just this general, ambiguous thing anymore -- it became real to me because it was so very real to them.

Growing up my husband used the holiday to plant flowers on graves of distant family members. We have modified this tradition and instead tend the graves of forgotten veterans of wars long past in the most neglected and forgotten cemetery we can come up with.

Those we memorialize likely wouldn’t want us to give up our holiday enjoyment on their account. But that doesn’t mean on Memorial Day of all days we can’t stop, think and thank them and the families they left behind for their sacrifice.

What Memorial Day traditions does your family have to help you remember and memorialize the fallen? Inspire others by sharing your ideas in the comment section.

 

Find Military.com's Memorial Day coverage, including some neat videos and tributes, here.

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