It Matters What We Say on Memorial Day

red poppies on a memorial marker

Hearing “Happy Memorial Day” never sits well for me as an American, veteran, and military spouse. 

Although often well-intended, Americans muddle the greetings with those of Veterans Day or Armed Forces Day. Please take time to learn the differences, rephrase your statement, and share with others how to practice remembrance today.

Veterans Day is celebrated each November 11th and honors all who served in the nation’s armed forces. Thank those who bared the cloth of the nation with, “Thank you for your service” or “Happy Veterans Day.”

Armed Forces Day is celebrated the third Saturday of May and honors service members currently serving the nation. On Armed Forces Day, a “Thank you for your Service” or “Happy Armed Forces Day” is a great way to greet a current service member of our military community. 

Memorial Day is observed the final Monday in May and honors service members who gave their life while serving in the United States armed forces. Memorial Day, often seen as the unofficial entrance to summer, adopts a misconstrued celebratory tone with barbecues, pool openings, and corporate sales; this ultimately undermines the remembrance associated to the holiday.

Those who gave their lives in service of our nation would want you to continue live in the light of your freedom, but let us rephrase our words to help better remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

On Memorial Day, consider using these phrases at barbecues, parties, or gatherings to remember the sacrifices of others:

  • “Let us give our gratitude today to those who gave their lives.”
  • “Let us live for those who gave their lives in service.”
  • “Raise a glass in remembrance with me.”
  • “We honor and remember, together, those who paid the ultimate cost, this Memorial Day weekend.”
  • “We honor your family’s sacrifice and the life of (insert fallen service member’s name).”

Want to take remembrance on Memorial Day a step further? Here’s how! 

  • Learn more about the history of Memorial Day.
  • Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00 P.M. local time on Memorial Day, pausing for one minute to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
  • Don poppies, the floral symbol of remembrance. Learn of the significance of the poppy here.
  • Consider collecting a donation at your gathering for an organization that supports families & friends grieving the loss of a service member. Organizations include Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) or America’s Gold Star Families.
  • Write your disapproval to corporations or small businesses that use “Happy Memorial Day” as a marketing tool to increase sales.
  • Watch the National Memorial Day Parade.