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What is the right way to observe Memorial Day?

People have the right to do whatever it is that makes them happy, provided it does not infringe upon another’s right to do the same

By Paul D. Mooney

Memorial Day is coming up, and I’m sure most of you are preparing for it in some way or another. I certainly am.

Extra day to sleep in aside, Memorial Day is a tradition rooted in sorrow, loss, and remembrance. And, as a veteran myself, I tend to see a fair share of articles and social media postings from my fellows demanding that Memorial Day return to its univerally somber roots. Because nothing gets people to agree with your point of view like getting annoyed at them for wanting to grill hamburgers and drink beer on their extra day off, right?

So while some folks are stocking up on ground chuck and packing the car for that first trip of the year to the closest swimmable body of water, others brace themselves for a day of solemnity, grie, and (hopefully) catharsis. And there are more than enough people out there (or maybe I just have an extra-high percentage of grumpy friends and my assessment is skewed) who seem to be pretty ticked off over that disparity and the conception that some people aren’t “properly” observing this day.

For my part, I’ll be spending the day with my family and friends at a well-known military museum (I’ll refrain from including the name to prevent being mobbed by my legions of adoring fans who are definitely not imaginary) for a ceremony honoring several veterans, both living and deceased.

One such honoree will be my grandfather, a WWII veteran who died after a long, happy life of success (aside from his being a Mets fan).

Another will be a young man I met very briefly while in training many years ago who was killed in action in Afghanistan shortly after. His father, a decorated veteran himself, will also be in attendance and I have no idea what I will say to him if given the chance. Knowing me, I’ll probably tear up immediately and gurgle something unintelligible.

I will also be making a speech on my grandfather’s behalf that will have more than its share of goofy jokes and silly stories, because that’s exactly what he would want.

So yeah, my day will undoubtedly be an interesting mix of crying, hugging, hearty laughter, snide comments about the other services, and moments of respectful silence, all topped off by what my grandpa would have wanted: lots of wine, red meat, and jokes. With such a mixed bag of emotions and activities, you may wonder where I stand on the issue of one should properly observe Memorial Day.

An interesting fact about the holiday: In the morning, the U.S. flag is raised to the top of the flagpole before being lowered to half-mast. But only until noon. Then it is re-hoisted to the top once more to signify that the million-plus men and women who have given their lives for this country did not do so in vain. This country that was founded on the idea that people have the inalienable right to do whatever it is that makes them happy, provided it does not infringe upon another’s right to do the same.

So here’s my philosophy: Do what you want on Memorial Day. Throw a raucous BBQ. Go to the beach. Walk in the park. Quietly remember those who gave their lives. Treat the day with solemnity and gravitas. Watch your local parade stomp by. Express your opinions on how you believe this day should be observed, but don’t try to cram it down anyone’s throat. Mourn loss. Celebrate life. Do both. It’s up to you.

And if you want to tell me this article was insipid, stupid, and that I’m a doody-head, then go for it. That’s your right, too. And a lot of people gave “the last full measure of devotion” for your ability to do so.

Honor and remember America’s fallen

This article, originally published on May 25, 2017, has been updated

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.