This weekend millions of Americans will attend backyard barbecues. Perhaps take a trip to the beach or maybe enjoy some tent camping at one of our many state parks. The vast majority of these people know the reason they are allowed to enjoy an extended weekend each year somewhere near the end of May. The reason of course is our annual Memorial Day observance.

I am going to write this based solely on my knowledge of the observance so keep me honest if you think I miss anything. First and foremost we must remember the intent of this day is to be an observance, not a holiday. Originally proposed by former Union Civil War General Logan sometime in the 1860’s, the observance was meant to maintain and decorate the grave sites of fallen comrades while also offering any assistance needed to the widows and orphans of the fallen. Rather altruistic intent don’t you think?

Have you ever heard someone refer to MLK day as ‘a day on, not a day off’? Well I feel the same way about Memorial Day. Feel free to enjoy the extended time off with your family, but while doing so please try to impart to your children the meaning of this day. Want to know a great day trip for you and the kids? Andersonville National Cemetery. Roughly a three hour drive from Loganville, this site is the final resting place for nearly 13,000 Union prisoners of war and is also home to the National Prisoner of War Museum. Looking for something local, maybe for yourself and your spouse? Break the motorcycle out of mothballs and join us for the Ride For America at the American Legion in Loganville. All proceeds benefit the Legacy Fund, a charity providing scholarships to children of fallen warriors since September 11, 2001. Or bring your children out to watch the start of the ride at 9:30 AM, they can watch nearly 1,000 motorcycles take off in honor of our fallen troops.

Also, please remember there are two distinct observances dealing with the American military. As stated above, Memorial Day is meant to reflect on those lost in combat during our Nation’s wars. For veterans and current military members Veteran’s Day was established during the 1920’s. Originally called Armistice Day and meant to recognize veterans of WWI the day was re-named Veteran’s Day by President Eisenhower and widened to include veterans of all wars. While I think it is critical to remain appreciative of veterans throughout the year, I also feel it is important for all Americans, particularly children, to know the difference between these two days.

My personal feelings on Memorial Day run the gamut of emotions. My heart swells with pride for every fallen Soldier, whether I knew them personally or not. It is tragic that they leave behind loved ones, wives and children and parents. But in the minds of their fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines they live on forever. They signed up to be a part of something larger than themselves and gave their lives in the process. In so doing they become larger than life to those of us remaining. I have seen innumerable ways in which brothers-in-arms memorialize their battle buddies. Names and dates tattooed on arms, framed pictures together on some unnamed operation, simple prayers offered up for friends gone but not forgotten. I have heard more than one Soldier proclaim that they perform to a higher standard now that they have lost a friend on the field of battle. Their mindset is that if their buddy is no longer here to tackle the mission that they must do so, and do it in a manner their fallen brother would approve of. If you’ve ever watched the last scene from the film Saving Private Ryan you know exactly what I mean. Private Ryan, now a grandfather, visits the grave site of the Captain who led the effort to rescue him and died in the process. If you have not seen this last minute of the film do so immediately, it is extraordinarily powerful.

Above all else please remember your part in observing Memorial Day. If you are currently serving or are a veteran yourself you already know what to do. Say a prayer for your buddy and keep living your life in a manner you know would make that buddy proud of you. If you never had the privilege to serve you still have a job to do on Memorial Day. Hosting one of those backyard barbecues? When you serve up those delicious burgers and brats ask everyone present to observe a moment of silence for America’s fallen heroes. Take a moment or two to explain to your children the nature of this day and the sacrifice and courage displayed by those the day is meant to memorialize. Really want to go the extra mile? Take your family to one of the state or federal veteran’s cemeteries to pay your respects. It doesn’t matter if you pay those respects to someone you were related to or even knew. Ask your children to note the conflict and the unit served with as noted on a particular marker, then ask them to research online and see what they learn. Simultaneously they will be learning to appreciate the sacrifices made while also gaining a little better depth of the extent our Nation’s various conflicts.

For some of us Memorial Day is every day of the year. For the average citizen it is thought of less frequently.  I completely understand that and cannot fault anyone for it. In the same way many citizens do not fully appreciate a police officer because they have not yet been a victim of a crime, the average American simply cannot fathom the scope of what the American Military does year round to protect and advance American interests. Want to thank all veterans and all those we have lost on the fields of battle? Do your best to be a contributor to our great American experiment. Raise children capable of contributing and instill in them a sense of pride and gratitude for what our American Military has accomplished. I know a lot of service members who would really appreciate your efforts.

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