I am way behind on blogs and I promise I am getting back on track. I have felt overwhelmed with work and the pressure of my one and only vehicle giving out. Just as I was feeling really down for all that has gone not quite right or flat-out wrong in recent weeks, it dawned on me that this is Memorial Day Weekend. And my woes do not even come close to comparing.
I just returned from our small town Memorial Day Service and I am honest when I say that when standing and saluting while Taps is played, my eyes get very watery thinking about all the lives sacrificed so that we can have days like this. Many Americans do not understand the four U.S. military recognition days so please allow me to elaborate.
Armed Forces Day is May 21st each year. On Armed Forces Day we honor people like my nephew who are still in uniform. My nephew is in the U. S. Army Reserves and we honor those who are willing to put their lives on the line for our freedom.
Veteran’s Day is celebrated on the 11th of November, officially at 11 A.M. which marked the end of World War I. On Veteran’s Day, we honor those like my niece, both of my brothers, my father, and six of my uncles. Men and women who were willing to sacrifice their lives and put on the uniform, finished their tour of duty, came home, and took off their uniform. Men and women, dead and alive who at some time in their life, wore the uniform.
Memorial Day was originally recognized to honor those men and women who died in uniform in conflict and came to be celebrated on the last Monday of May. It is still mainly a day to remember those who sacrificed their lives for our liberty but it has changed slightly recently to include everyone who died while on active duty whether the U. S. was in an armed conflict or not and regardless of the circumstances of their death. [i] Men like my girlfriend’s grandfather who was a WWII USAF pilot who was making a career in the Air Force but died on active duty in 1957 in a car accident. To put it another way, they never came home to their families in the same way the above veterans did.
POW\MIA Day is a day much less celebrated but a day that we, as Americans, should stop and reflect on and it is on 16 September each year. These are men and women who, while serving in a conflict area either disappeared or were reported captured but what happened to them is unknown. At least the families whose loved ones died on active duty know what happened to their family members and can go on with their lives. Those whose loved one’s life remains unknown are left in limbo. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a formal military dinner or veteran organization meetings you will see that we (I am retired Army) honor these men and women above all others. Why? Because as I stated, their fate is unknown. Much like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, “Unknown but to God.”
To put it succinctly:
- Armed Forces Day honors those still in uniform
- Veteran’s Day honors those who wore the uniform, came home and took off the uniform
- Memorial Day honors those who, while wearing the uniform, died, many while giving their last ounce of devotion
- POW\MIA Day honors those who not only did not get the opportunity to take off their uniform but what happened to them remains unknown.
Be sure to always take the time to remember and reflect on what Memorial Day really is. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Memorial Day Ceremony at a National Cemetery, I encourage you to do so, especially if it is one where the Scouts are out there planting flags and marking the graves of veterans.
I know Memorial Day also marks the beginning of summer and I am not trying to take away from that, I just want to remind you of what this day is truly all about.
On a genealogy note, military records are also a great place to find information on your ancestors who served.
[i] Provided their death was deemed “In the line of duty” by their service. This means, they were not doing something illegal, etc. that resulted in their death.