As a veteran, Memorial Day has a deep and personal significance for me. It’s not about barbecues or big parties at a friend’s house or getting together with family’s. It’s not about being lakeside or beachside. For me, and for the veteran, it’s about paying our respects to those that answered the call and gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love all of those things I mentioned above, but for us this weekend is less about that. In fact, Memorial Day is when most of us go deep in thought, and deep into our past.
Every year Memorial Day starts with me packing up my gear, strapping it to my motorcycle and making the journey on two wheels down to Washington DC to visit the many war memorials and the always humbling Arlington National Cemetery. I pay my respects alongside many brothers that are there to do the same. Memorial Day weekend is a somber time for veterans. It’s when we reminisce about the good, the bad, and the humorous (not PG) stories of our past military life, laughing about it, crying over it, and reliving it together to help ease the heaviness of the weekend. It’s with these stories that we keep the ones we’ve lost alive. On Sunday morning, after a long weekend with many brothers, I pack up again and jump on my Harley-Davidson for the long trip home, which is filled with more reminiscing, reflection, and sometimes peace of mind. Four hundred miles of wind therapy helps make sense of it all.
One common misconception I have encountered over the years is the confusion by those who may not have served (or had loved ones who served) on the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. I have had friends, family, and others thank me for my service during the Memorial Day weekend. While I’ve always replied back with a polite “it was my honor” or “it was my pleasure” I’ve realized that most don’t truly understand the difference, or perhaps that they don’t understand the difference from the veteran’s perspective. For the veteran, this is a time to relive parts of their service they may not want to recall, or to think about those lost way too soon. While both days honor the contributions of service men and women, Memorial Day is dedicated to remembering and honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is important for people to understand the difference, and the veteran’s perspective, as it allows us to truly pay our respects to our fallen brothers and sisters.
Take a brief moment to pause this holiday weekend to pay respects, to your father the Marine, or your sister the airman, or your grandfather the WW2 paratrooper. Whoever it is in your life that answered the call and is no longer with us, may you take this time to honor their service, courage and sacrifice. Take a moment to keep their memory alive by sharing with our younger generations the bravery and selflessness that these men and women displayed time and again. Engage in conversation and pass on the values of honor, duty, and service that define the military experience. Bring your children, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren to visit memorials and ceremonies, and instill a sense of gratitude for those who sacrificed it all.
If you see a veteran on November 11th, sit down and share a beer and a story with them, have some laughs and if so inclined, thank them for their service. But this weekend stand beside that veteran as they honor their fallen brothers and sisters in arms.
Have a safe holiday weekend.
Luke Young, US Army Veteran (OEF/OIF)
Luke Young is a co-founder of The Garrison Speed Shop in Mendon, a nonprofit that provides Active Military, Veterans and First Responders with recreational motorcycle programs and skilled trade vocational services.