If there’s one thing news anchors—usually inexperienced ones—do that makes me cringe, it is wishing people a “Happy Memorial Day.” For those of you who have a military member in your family, you probably know where I am going with this. For those who do not, allow me to explain.
Too many people conflate Memorial Day, a time to honor the sacrifices of Americans who have died in combat, with Veterans Day, in which we thank veterans for their service. In this era of commercialized holidays, I can see how this happens.
Memorial Day has become synonymous with picnics, bargain shopping and the kickoff to summer. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the long weekend and time with your family, but we need to remember what this holiday is actually for. It is a day of commemoration, not celebration. It is more than a day off.
Wishing someone a “Happy Memorial Day”—particularly a veteran— is asking them to be happy on a solemn, often painful, occasion.
Memorial Day is designated to remember the lost. It is a time to honor fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, family members and friends who proudly wore the uniform, but never returned. It is a day for gathering at cemeteries, for moments of silence, for tributes and parades of honor. Saying “Happy Memorial Day”—however innocently—is awkward at best and can be offensive. If you want to read up on the history of the holiday this article covers it nicely.
I’ve asked veterans this question directly, while attending Memorial Day services as an anchor and reporter. They want you to understand Memorial Day is difficult for them. As many of us are turning on the grill or browsing online sales, they are thinking of people they served with whose lives were cut short. Friends they miss. Family members who are no longer here. They wish more people would use the day to pause, remember and reflect.
Don’t thank them for their service. It’s NOT Veterans Day, nor is it military appreciation day. Rather, pay homage to the men and women who have died to protect our freedoms. Tell them your thoughts are with our nation’s military families and those who have lost loved ones. A simple we’re thinking of you and we care is enough.
You may have heard the saying “freedom isn’t free” our veterans want you to consider that. Go ahead, enjoy the holiday weekend, but don’t forget what it’s all about.