Honor the Fallen Who Served, Serve the Living Who Struggle
If you were to honor the memory of every soldier buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his or her own parade, you’d have to host more than 1,100 parades per day for the entire calendar year. And while each of those parades would no doubt be as appreciated and celebrated as the Memorial Day parades and events that will take place this weekend, perhaps you will consider honoring the fallen by supporting those who served beside them…and today live civilian lives with less than they need and deserve.
Memorial Day is a day of remembrance, an occasion when America pays homage to the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for their country. It is commemorated with a combination of solemnness and sadness, pride and gratitude, and an overwhelming sense of patriotism. It is an occasion when America pauses to honor those who took their last breath in the name of freedom and democracy. Their headstones, like the more than 400,000 in Arlington National Cemetery, tell the story of our nation's history and tradition of duty, bravery and selflessness. It has become an American hallmark, and no less than our soldiers deserve.
If you ask a veteran what Memorial Day means to him or her, you will see patriotism first and foremost, then perhaps a mixture of pride, sadness and sometimes guilt in memory of those they knew and served beside who did not make it. With a proud sense of duty this holiday weekend, veterans all over the country will honor requests to lay wreaths on the memorials of our fallen, wave from parade processions to people lining the streets with flags and cheering as they pass through countless American towns, and a few will participate in media interviews. But for them, alongside the families who lost loved ones in the line of duty, Memorial Day is merely 1 of 365 moments in a year when memories of the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine run through their thoughts.
Next week, the streets will be cleaned of parade debris and workers will be checking federal holiday calendars to see when next the office closes, while countless veterans will struggle to find jobs and access the benefits and health care they’ve earned. Consider honoring those who served and survived by donating time, money and/or resources to a veterans service organization. There are many ways to cheer them on, and help them live their civilian lives more comfortably. Many veterans service organizations are governed by the very people they are helping. They advocate for themselves, at the same time they’re supporting all veterans, their families and caregivers.
You can, of course, support their efforts by donating money. But you can also hire a veteran, frequent a veteran-owned business, or volunteer your time and knowledge. It may surprise you to know you can even donate your frequent flyer miles to help veterans travel to job interviews or a specialized medical facility. Something that would take you very little effort can change the lives of those who fought for our freedom, only to continue to fight when they returned home.
This Memorial Day, let us rightly bow our heads in thanks that we have citizens among us who love our country enough to protect it—at literally any and all cost. And then raise our heads and our hearts to those of them who are still here, and ask ourselves what we can do to help them.
This guest blog post was contributed by Tracey Lynn Shifflett, director of communications & external affairs for Paralyzed Veterans of America in Washington, DC. You can visit PVA on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.