We were a crew of sailors and Marines, milling about, waiting to participate in downtown Denver’s Memorial Day Parade. A bunch of kids in "A" school (first training school in military lingo) wishing we were back in our racks sleeping instead of squinting in the morning sun.
A Marine in the the uniform he’d worn in WWI walked the sidewalk in our direction, his step spry, his bearing proud, as it should be for a man able to wear his uniform after over fifty plus years. He stopped in front of our group, did a smart right face and saluted. No words. He didn’t need them. He moved on.
We sharpened up. That soldier had seen more of war, of life, and of service to this country than the whole crew of us could ever imagine, and he had paid us respect.
Memorial Day is more than the holiday heralding summer. It is a time when our nation reflects with gratitude on the sacrifice so many in uniform have made. Flags will be lowered to half-mast until noon and communities will be holding services and parades to honor our military.
But what can each of us do to keep the true meaning and spirit of Memorial Day alive? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Take part in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 pm
Wherever you are, stop, and give a minute of your time for awareness or prayer.
2. Be a part of your community
Before firing up the barbeque, attend one of those parades or commemorative services. Most cities will hold concerts. If yours doesn’t, you will be able to catch the televised National Memorial Day Concert on Capitol Hill Sunday evening.
3. Purchase a poppy from a VFW member
They usually sell them for a donation in front of shopping centers. Tie a poppy to your purse or your lapel as a reminder to all of us that this isn’t just a day to find great deals on appliances.
4. Blast the Sousa
Make a patriotic music playlist and hang the red, white, and blue. This is the day to fly our nation’s flag but don’t stint on the bunting either.
5. Keep your family’s personal military history alive
Over the picnic table, share stories of family members who served this country. Wearing the uniform calls for sacrifice but it is also an amazing adventure and one that deserves to be documented. If you have someone willing to reminiscence, turn on a recorder or jot down notes. Don’t let your family’s story disappear into the murky haze of memory.
6. If you are a Veteran, please, take a moment to write your own history
Some experiences you may not feel willing to share but as time passes, your perspective might change and we, as a nation, can gain from your insight. Plus, those service ribbons and commendations and the insignias that you earned—gather them up and please keep them safe. Digitizing letters written during that time or photos might not be a bad idea either.
7. Donate to a charity that supports our military in ways our government doesn’t.
A good list with information and ratings as to the effectiveness of the charity is at Charity Navigator.
If you feel called to do more, consider helping the USO in its mission to help active duty personnel and their families. The VA Hospitals also always need volunteers. For more information, you can contact the USO here. You can learn more about volunteering at your local VA Hospital at http://www.volunteer.va.gov.
Cathy Maxwell is a former US Navy officer and New York Times best-selling author of over thirty Avon/HarperCollins romances. For more information on Maxwell and her books go to www.cathymaxwell.com.