In recent years, a series of cringe-worthy posts inevitably surface on social media that lambaste veterans and chastise civilians about the appropriate way to observe Memorial Day. Rather than enjoy a long weekend and some time with our families, we’re now expected to be sad and solemn as we remember our fallen soldiers.
For some people, Memorial Day isn’t a day for barbecues with family but rather a day to get drunk in a bar by yourself while fixating on lost friends.
Memorial Day is indeed a time when we can all reflect on the sacrifices made—the terrible costs paid as American men and women who fought the evils of fascism, communism, and terrorism across the globe. The world would be a much nastier, less friendly place without American influence and without a superpower advocating for democracy and human rights, but we didn’t get there with sunshine and rainbows. Wars were fought and won in the mud and at times, it got pretty ugly.
However, there’s a serious question on how we process this as a country. Civilians are vaguely aware that we have soldiers deployed to dozens of countries, many in active war zones. They’re also relatively respectful and thankful for the service of these soldiers. But, they have families, jobs, and kids’ Little League games. We can’t expect them to be mournful day in, day out—and as veterans, we should be thankful for this fact. We helped protect our society from some of the things we saw.
Memorial Day has almost transmogrified into a moment for us to rub our service in the faces of everyone around us, reminding the world that yes, we’re veterans. Some rightly argue that Memorial Day is about the fallen, not a day to celebrate the vets who are still with us. But proving that virtue-signaling and self-aggrandizement knows no bounds, many veterans take Memorial Day as an opportunity to guilt civilians into feeling bad about war. This is vain and selfish, because guilt isn’t a productive emotion, and it’s not going to change anything.
For these veterans, we’re not supposed to enjoy ourselves on Memorial Day weekend. We’re supposed to sit in quiet repose, remember our friends who died in combat, and feel bad for them. There was probably a time in my life when I would have agreed, but over the years I thought more about what my dead teammates would really have wanted of me.
I remember my platoon sergeant, a larger-than-life figure who seemed to excel at everything he put his mind to. We served together in two platoons, and he was my platoon sergeant in both. He was a family man, and I know that he would have given anything to see his wife and kids one more time.
But I can’t feel bad for him, because I can’t question his sacrifice. They say that Rangers are three-time volunteers because they volunteered for the Army, for the Airborne and for the Rangers. My platoon sergeant could be described as a four-time volunteer because he also chose to serve as an operator. I deeply respect his voluntary service. That’s why I won’t feel bad about his sacrifice. He was doing exactly what he wanted to do.
As Memorial Day creeps up on us, I think about what he would have wanted for me. He would have wanted me to love my family and apply myself to something in life—those are the basics I’m 100 percent sure of. If his spirit caught me ignoring my family, chastising my friends, or feeling bad for him and for myself in a bar somewhere, he would give me some poltergeist version of a bitch slap—and rightly so.
For those reasons, I think it’s okay to have a barbecue with your friends and family on Memorial Day. Remember your teammates who paid the ultimate price; but also be thankful you’re still alive. Have gratitude for the fact you live in America and enjoy the freedoms our fallen warriors fought for.
Getting down in the dumps and crawling into a bottle is no way to honor those individuals. You might as well be spitting in their faces.
A version of this article was originally published in 2018.