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Why you should think twice before thanking a veteran on Memorial Day

There’s not really a bad time to thank a veteran or an active duty service member, but there is a catch on Memorial Day.

“A lot of people seem to misunderstand the meaning behind Memorial Day,” Sean Delaire said. “Veterans Day is a day to honor those that have served. Memorial Day is a day to honor those that have died in service to this country.”

Delaire served in the Marines between 2007 and 2011. Today, he runs Left Right Straight, a nonprofit that engages the veteran community through outdoor adventures. The goal is to benefit veterans’ overall health and welfare.

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John Rodriguez served six years in the Army. He says it’s not uncommon for service members to be thanked on Memorial Day; as if that is the purpose of the holiday.

“I’ve never been bothered by it,” he said. “Normally, I just say thanks, and either remind them of the difference or go about my day.”

Rodriguez says he does encounter a general ignorance about the holiday.

“And it’s unfortunate,” he said. “Every year, I see tons of posts on social media in the week leading up to and on Memorial Day, trying to educate people. I share a few every year. But, some people don’t get it or care to learn.”

What you may not understand about Memorial Day

The sentiment is appreciated. But Delaire says that veterans and active duty military experience Memorial Day differently than most. This comes up a lot when he hears people say “Happy Memorial Day.”

“For a lot of service members and veterans, Memorial Day can be a really tough time,” he said. “They’ve lost friends they were closer to than anyone else. So to hear ‘Happy Memorial Day’ can really pour salt into a wound when they’re thinking of their brothers and sisters that aren’t with us anymore.”

“As far as Memorial Day is concerned, don’t treat it as a shopping day, or an excuse to BBQ and get drunk,” he said. “Yes, have a good time because I know my friends that aren’t with us anymore would want everyone to have a good time. But don’t lose what the holiday is about. It’s to remember and honor those that aren’t with us anymore. Not to get 30 percent off at Lowe’s on your new grill.”

Best way to thank veterans

So what can someone do to thank a veteran?

“Best thing to do, in my opinion, is just support vets or vet organizations,” Rodriguez said. “There are lots of groups out there doing what they can to better the lives of veterans. Get involved. These men and women are our neighbors, friends, and family. Let’s treat them as such.”

Left Right Straight is one such group. And Delaire echoes that sentiment.

“Honestly, the best thing you can do is just to treat them like a human being,” he said. “We don’t need to be turned into giant heroes or looked at as broken people. We served our country and a lot of us still serve our community. If someone is having a hard time, be understanding and helpful. If someone needs a job, hire them or connect them with a business that is hiring. I think that’s the best way to thank, or help a veteran. Give them a job or a new purpose in the community.”

What other vets have to say

While talking with a few other veterans, they had this to say about the Memorial Day / Veterans Day distinction, and how to show gratitude toward veterans.

Ryan Brazil, served 13 years in the Army National guard

“So few people serve, therefore, so few truly understand the sacrifices that come with our service,” Brazil said. “My blanket statement is that people don’t care. There are some who care, but let’s use yesterday as an example. My company pays you for an hour to not work and watch a Memorial Day presentation. There’s a couple hundred employees on my shift and only 16 people showed up.”

Brazil said he smiles and thanks people who offer their appreciation of his service on Memorial Day. He feels that most folks he encounters don’t care much about the distinction. He doesn’t mind Memorial Day barbecues.  But he also recommends that people do something other than say “thank you” to a veteran, like volunteer or donate money to veterans causes.

“Actions speak louder than words and if you’re truly thankful you’ll go out of your way to show it,” he said.

John Schuster, served four years in the U.S. Navy

“I feel very reserved, and shy away from these compliments, we all gave some and some gave more or all,” Schuster said. “And I feel like those compliments should be reserved for those who gave all.”

“I think the best thing a person can do is something simple for a Veteran,” he said. “Like maybe visiting some of our vets at a veteran’s home and being an ear to listen or making sure they have everything they need. Or donating a little time to an active program that does something for veterans in need.”

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