The Meaning Of Memorial Day

A day that most Americans look forward to for a three day weekend, cocktails, and outside barbecues, Memorial Day is actually one of the most misunderstood American ‘holidays.’ Most people probably wouldn’t give a second thought to wishing someone a happy Memorial Day but for many of us “happy Memorial Day” is a contradiction to the somber day set aside to reflect on our friends and family who paid for our liberty with their lives. 

As an Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran, I can honestly say that there is etiquette when it comes to Memorial Day. There are ways to enjoy the end of a long weekend that both honor the meaning of the day and that completely disrespect the Americans lost to war. In this article I’m going to share many of the ignorant and flat out ridiculous things that Veterans hear every year and how to avoid being one of those jerks. 

Originally called “Decoration Day” the holiday to honor those who died in war while serving in the US military was held every May 30th regardless of the day of the week until the 1970’s. Originally Decoration Day was used to honor those killed in the Civil War but would expand after World War 1 to include all veterans killed in war. The “Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968” would create what we now know as Memorial Day moving the holiday to the last Monday of May and giving people a three day weekend. 

Memorial Day is a “federal holiday in the United States for honoring and mourning the military personnel who had died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.” Here are some of the Do’s and Don’ts of celebrating Memorial Day. 

DO: Have a Memorial Day barbecue, visit with friends, kick back and enjoy a nice cold one. Live it up by taking full advantage of the blessings of being an American. We live in the greatest nation in the history of man because brave patriots have overcome great evil in the toughest wars. 

DON’T: Forget that everything we have in America came at a steep cost. Don’t get together without having a moment of silence, or some other recognition for those brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the American freedom you are enjoying. 

DON’T: wish anyone a “Happy Memorial Day”  This is the very essence of the Memorial Day etiquette I am referring to. Memorial Day is a day to ask  questions like:

  • How much do you know about what it’s like to serve? 
  • What is the cost of American freedom? 
  • How do you value your freedom? 
  • What does freedom really mean to you? 
  • What are you willing to do to preserve the freedom that so many have sacrificed for? 

I hate to say it, but Americans are spoiled. Less than 1% of Americans serve in the military and the number of people who serve in active combat situations is even lower. With such a small percentage serving, the connection between the broader population and those who serve isn’t as strong as it used to be.  They feel as though they are entitled. 99%+ of Americans will never have to worry about VBEDS, indirect fire, getting shot at in combat, an IED going off on the side of the road in passing, or deal with the life altering consequences of having PTSD.   

DO: Participate in one of the Memorial Day traditions held at military cemeteries and installations all over the country. A bunch of diverse groups organize Flag, Wreath, and cleanup events at Military Cemeteries across the country. There are also several Memorial Day remembrances and challenges you can participate in on Memorial Day. 



DON’T: Make it all about yourself. 

Here is one that I see all the time. If you’re participating in one of the Memorial Day challenges don’t forget to mention the whole reason the challenge exists. One of the big ones is the “Murph Challenge” where in honor of Lt. Michael P. Murphy challengers complete a grueling PT challenge. It’s a great way to honor a man who was high speed and who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Veterans organize these challenges to honor and remember the heroic brothers and sisters they lost at war. Here is how the “Murph Challenge” explains it,  

“The Murph Challenge is more than just a workout. It is a tradition that helps push us, humble us, and allows us the opportunity to dedicate a bit of pain and sweat to honor, LT. Michael P. Murphy, a man who sacrificed everything he had for our freedom.” The official workout includes a 1 mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, and another 1 mile run; all while wearing a 20 pound vest or body armor.

Want to know why it’s the “Murph Challenge”, look at the man it’s dedicated to.   If you have never heard of him, Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a United States Navy SEAL officer was awarded for his actions during the War in Afghanistan. He was the first member of the U.S. Navy to receive the Navy Seal of Honor since the Vietnam War. Lt. Murphy also received the Purple Heart, Silver Star and a legacy of a hero for his courage. Outnumbered and severely wounded “Murph” purposely exposed himself to enemy fire to call in assistance for his fellow SEALS in Afghanistan. Lt. Murphy died a hero’s death for our country on that day of June 28, 2005.

Why do I mention Lt. Michael Murphy? For one, sacrifices like his and like so many brave men and women who have risked their lives in combat need to be recognized. Two, as The Murph Challenge has grown in popularity I’ve seen people brag and complain about doing it that don’t even mention anything about Lt. Murphy. 

The challenge works best when you use it as an opportunity to ask the people who do it about the man they are honoring. “What is the Murph Challenge? Can you tell me the story of Lt. Michael Murphy? 

WARNING: If you do a memorial challenge and can’t answer basic questions about who it’s named after, you look like a jerk. 

DON’T: Make Memorial Day political

Memorial Day isn’t a Republican or Democrat event don’t make yourself look foolish by trying to act like it is.  

So this Memorial Day, if you do decide to have friends and family over for a nice, fun, and relaxing day, have fun! There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy yourself on your day off. We Americans love having a good time and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! However, at some point during the day, would it be too much to ask for a moment of silence, a toast, or even a heartfelt prayer for the friends and family of those who have given their lives in honor of our freedoms? Also, let’s not forget that this particular day is not an enjoyable day for everyone. Some have to live with the constant reminder of the death of their loved ones.

Here at America First projects we would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of the brave men and women and their families who have risked their lives and provided the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedoms as a country and as a people, one nation under God. Please know that you are in our heartfelt prayers and that your sacrifice is beyond appreciated and we are forever grateful.

Stay safe out there, God bless America!