OPINION: Don’t Thank Veterans on Memorial Day, Join Them in Honoring the Fallen

by Peter Sessum

This is one of those things that drives veterans crazy, admittedly some take it too far. Civilians don’t see why it matters and while they don’t intend to offend, some do not fully grasp why thanking veterans on Memorial Day bothers most of us so much. I tell people it is like wishing me a happy birthday on my dead brother’s birthday.

Not so happy birthday

Bob: Happy birthday!

Tom: It isn’t my birthday, it is my brother’s birthday. The brother that passed away years ago.

Bob: Doing anything cool for your birthday? I like to go to parties.

Tom: Some family and I are going to visit his grave.

Bob: Well that’s cool too. Happy birthday anyway.

Tom: It isn’t my birthday. It is my dead brother’s birthday.

Bob: Close enough.

That would be a horribly insensitive conversation, but that is how it feels when someone thanks me for my service on Memorial Day. Granted, part of that is because of what specifically Memorial Day means to me and other vets. It isn’t as insensitive to say “Thank you for your service” on Armed Forces Day, the weekend before Memorial Day. It is incorrect, but not insulting. At worst, it might sting for the person who wishes they could still serve.

I should probably stress that this is just my opinion and not that of every vet. I know a guy that thinks he should be thanked on Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, and Memorial Day as an entitlement. I very much disagree with that thinking and so does every other vet I know.

In case you needed a visual of what day is for who.

Take time to respect the fallen…or don’t

I served on the post color guard for a while back in the day and performed a ceremony on Memorial Day. Now, as a vet, Memorial Day is my busiest weekend of the year. I place flags on the graves of vets at a local cemetery, I help pass out poppies with my local VFW and attend multiple ceremonies, often being part of the rifle salute. It is what I do to respect those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and those who are no longer with us.

That is what I do, but I don’t expect everyone else to do the same. I find it kind of annoying when vets get all up in arms and scream about how it isn’t “national BBQ day.” No, it isn’t but it also isn’t “national be sad on your couch day. ” We served so our country could be free, not so that we would be revered. And people should have the freedom to do what they want on any given day. If we have to act a specific way, or if someone dictates how we should act that really isn’t freedom.

Memorial Day, for me, isn’t just for those that fell in combat it is for all of those that served that are no longer with us. I am one of the lucky ones, not just because I came home without any holes but because I didn’t lose anyone really close to me. The only casualty during my tour was from the unit I was attached to during my deployment. While tragic, I didn’t know him. I served in the same mortar platoon as a man that was killed in Iraq about a decade after the last time I saw him. I didn’t even know he was Killed in Action until a year or so ago when I saw his name on a list of the fallen.

I do, unfortunately, know an ever-growing list of veterans who are no longer with us. I use my Memorial Day to pay my respects to them. Just because they survived their tour or tours, doesn’t mean their passing is less of a loss.

When it is my time, I have my own expectations

While I plan to live forever, and so far so good, there might be a time I am no longer around. In which case I don’t want the people I care about to spend three days sulking. If I am not around I want them to have fun for me. Drink some beers, cook some ribs, go watch the sunset on the beach, do the things I would do on a sunny day.

To be honest, if my body is not lit on fire and set out to sea with large men doing a haka on the shore while people gather around a keg telling stories about me while I burn then either my friends have failed me or I did not live the kind of life I have strived for.

Sitting around and being sad is not how I spent my time in the military. Yes, you should BBQ, it’s what we did in the military. Yes, you should drink. Once again, it is what we did in the military. If someone is having an online sale, you should tactically exploit that and save a few bucks. It is a sound military strategy. If you want to sit around and hate the military, it is a free country, you are free to do that and I won’t fault you. I defended your right to think what you want, even if it isn’t what I think. I won’t tell you how to celebrate, just please don’t thank a vet for his or her service. It isn’t our day, there is plenty of time to thank us November 11. Instead of thanking us for our service, join us in remembering our lost.

I know I would appreciate that.

Peter Sessum has spent his adult life in service to his country in one way or another. A former Army sergeant, he has lived, trained, or deployed to 11 different countries in uniform. He started his career as Infantry and later switched to Psychological Operations. His PSYOP experience in the country helped him get hired on two counter-narcotics programs in Afghanistan for the State Department. Sessum used his G.I. Bill to go back to school and graduated from the University of Washington in 2011 with a degree in Journalism.

Featured image by Bill Dickenson