When I first heard about Memorial Day after I moved here about 18 years ago, I asked a co-worker what it was. She told me that it was a long weekend off and most people had back yard barbecues and celebrated the coming of summer with family and friends. Also, neighborhood pools opened for the season and that it was okay to wear white.

memorialday1Very confused but liking the idea that we would be off for the day just so that we could celebrate wearing white and take a dip in the now open local pool, I asked her why it was called Memorial Day. She told me it was a day we thought about and celebrated the lives of dead family members.

Images flashed through my mind of wailing women and parades of people flocking to local cemeteries, chanting the rosary while blessing gravestones and placing flowers on the graves of their deceased. It made be wonder if this was really a day of celebration or was it a day of misery.

Liking the former plans for Memorial Day better than the latter and since I had no family members in graves in this country, I decided that having the day off work so that I could eat barbecue while popping the top on a cold beer was a better way to go.

So for several years, I followed this tradition never once giving a thought as to the true meaning of the holiday. Even at times thinking that it was kind of pathetic that there had to be a National Holiday in order for people to remember dead loved ones.

Over time though, I began to question the meaning of American National Holidays. After all there is Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day all of which were foreign to me.

Eventually I realized the true meaning of Memorial Day. It is a day that the entire nation honors the brave men and women in the armed forces that died in order to give us the chance to have back yard parties, swim in local pools, walk through graveyards, wear white or any other color. It is a day that as a nation we can acknowledge the sacrifices made, the courage it took and the freedoms it provided.

memorialday3I no longer feel the need to have a family member to mourn in a graveyard here in order for me to feel loss or appreciation. Complete strangers gave me opportunities that I would never have had without them. I and my daughters reap the benefits given to me by young men and women that I have never met.

So, although I don’t walk through graveyards crying or praying while blessing gravestones nor do I take Memorial Day as an opportunity to party and wear white.

Yes, I still attend backyard barbecues, I’ve hosted a few myself but at least now I know why. Now I know to honor, pray for and thank all those service men and women who gave their lives for us and I know to appreciate and give thanks for those families that were left behind.

This Memorial Day, take a moment from your day to give thanks to the fallen and also to educate those around you who may not know the true meaning of this National Holiday.

 

UPDATE:

Since I wrote this post I found out something else about deceased military men and women. Here is the link to the post on Facebook, 95.7 KJR

 

I didn’t know this.. Did you? Have you ever been in a cemetery and saw coins laying on a tombstone? There is actually a reason behind it.

military graves

Photo curtosy of 95.7 KJR

COINS LEFT ON TOMBSTONES

“While visiting some cemeteries you may notice that headstones marking certain graves have coins on them, left by previous visitors to the grave.

These coins have distinct meanings when left on the headstones of those who gave their life while serving in America’s military, and these meanings vary depending on the denomination of coin.

A coin left on a headstone or at the grave site is meant as a message to the deceased soldier’s family that someone else has visited the grave to pay respect. Leaving a penny at the grave means simply that you visited.

A nickel indicates that you and the deceased trained at boot camp together, while a dime means you served with him in some capacity. By leaving a quarter at the grave, you are telling the family that you were with the solider when he was killed.

According to tradition, the money left at graves in national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries is eventually collected, and the funds are put toward maintaining the cemetery or paying burial costs for indigent veterans.

In the US, this practice became common during the Vietnam war, due to the political divide in the country over the war; leaving a coin was seen as a more practical way to communicate that you had visited the grave than contacting the soldier’s family, which could devolve into an uncomfortable argument over politics relating to the war.

Some Vietnam veterans would leave coins as a “down payment” to buy their fallen comrades a beer or play a hand of cards when they would finally be reunited.

The tradition of leaving coins on the headstones of military men and women can be traced to as far back as the Roman Empire.”