Shortly after September 11, 2001 I started basic training with the US Army National Guard. I decided to join before 9/11, but the event only strengthened my decision. I ended up not making it through basic training because of a (previously unknown) heart condition. So in some way, my time in basic training saved my life.
It’s so important to appreciate those that serve our country and to remember the soldiers that lost their lives doing so. But what do you say to service members on Memorial Day? How do you say thank you on Memorial Day (and should you)?
Do you even need to thank veterans? How do you honor fallen soldiers? We hope to help answer those questions in this post.
Table of Contents
When Is Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is the last Monday of May. Friends and family tend to get together to celebrate the holiday weekend as the beginning of summer. Many stores have Memorial Day Sales over the weekend.
The point of the holiday is to celebrate and show gratitude to fallen soldiers who sacrificed their life serving our country and defending our freedom.
Who are we honoring on Memorial Day?
Memorial Day is an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May to honor those men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice and died during their military service. It is a day to reflect on lives lost.
Memorial Day is a solemn occasion and National Holiday to remember the brave men and women that served and lost their life. The men and women killed in combat allow us to be free.
Memorial Day is originally known as Decoration Day. It originated after the Civil War. In 1971 it became recognized as a federal holiday.
Are Police Celebrated On Memorial Day?
Police officers are not celebrated on Memorial Day. Police Officers have their own day of remembrance called Peace Officers Memorial Day which occurs May 15th, every year.
Peace Officers Memorial Day pays tribute to law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice or were injured in the line of duty. Peace Officer Memorial Day is a celebration of local, state, and federal law enforcement who sacrificed their life.
We asked Veterans what they want to hear on Memorial Day
We asked US Military what they wanted to hear on Memorial Day. Next, we asked civilians what they thought US Veterans wanted to hear on Memorial Day.
The survey results were:
|What To Say To United States Veterans On Memorial Day?||Percentage Of Vets Said They Prefer||Percentage Of Civilians That Think Vets Prefer|
|“Happy Memorial Day”||30%||14%|
|“Thank You For Your Service”||24%||60%|
|“Either Is Fine”||27%||14%|
Observations From Survey On What Do You Say On Memorial Day
- There were clear differences between what civilians thought veterans wanted to hear and what those that served in the armed forces in fact wanted to hear.
- 74% of civilians we surveyed thought veterans wanted to be thanked on Memorial Day. But only a little more than half of those in the military that we asked were ok being thanked on Memorial Day. We were told frequently that Veterans Day or any other day is more appropriate for being thanked.
- Many of the veterans we surveyed that answered “Thank You For Your Service” and/or “Happy Memorial Day” was acceptable followed it up with that they understand civilians mean well, but Memorial Day isn’t a day for them. So the disconnect is even wider than our stats indicate.
- Age and whether they were active or retired clearly mattered. This was only evident from our in-person surveys. We plan to have a future survey that includes age or era.
- 72% of the soldiers that said they prefer “Happy Memorial Day” were from a Facebook survey we did. When we asked the same question on Twitter, Instagram, and in person, the results were much different (only 12% preferred “Happy Memorial Day). Facebook only allowed binary questions and we didn’t offer the answer of neither. Our conversations and interviews also revealed that it’s best not to wish a Happy Memorial Day, despite the facebook results.
Quotes From Veterans From Our Survey
“The only people you say Thank You to on Memorial Day are the dead”.Spencer, US Army
“Don’t thank me for my service. Thank my wife and family”Andrew, US Air Force
“I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything in the military that warrants their appreciation. Others may think it’s cool, but it makes me feel like an imposter”Zach, US Air Force
“What do I think of being thanked for my service? I despise it”Logan, US Air Force.
“I love it it when someone says “Thank You For Your service” or “Happy Memorial Day”Monica, US Air Force
“On Memorial Day, “Thank You for your service” is not for us, it’s for the fallen soldiers. You want to thank their families. You can thank us any other day.”Clint, US Army (Retired)
“Memorial Day is for remembering fallen service members. I don’t want to be thanked for that, and it’s nothing to be happy about. I will drink some beer and enjoy barbecue in their honor”Joe, US Army (Retired)
“Personally, I’m fine with any one of those, but I also know that any one of them can be a trigger for some active military and veterans. For me, I’m ok with any one of them because I’ve come to understand that most civilians don’t know enough to know any better.
So when they acknowledge me or my peers in any way, I know it comes from a good place in their hearts, even if what they say is somewhat inappropriate. That said, some of us expect civilians to know everything about these types of holidays and so they’re offended when they get it wrong.
As a Marine, I understand their pain because many of us know all too well the sacrifices our friends have made. Sacrifices such as time away from family to death on the battlefield.
Sometimes it’s hard to accept ambivalence from the general population when such memories are burned into our minds.”Fabio, US Marines
“Memorial Day is really a day of remembrance. I don’t think there is anything you say to a service member. There are a lot of things you don’t say. The best thing people can do is not say anything, but remember those who sacrifice their lives.”Michael, US Navy
What you say Depends On The Veteran
How do you say thank you on Memorial Day? Thanking veterans or wishing a “Happy Memorial Day” depends on the service member.
Do you say thank you for your service on Memorial Day? One thing we noticed from our surveys and interviews was most older veterans appreciated being thanked for their service.
Most younger veterans didn’t want to be thanked by strangers. The younger veterans shared that the more they knew someone the more they welcomed being thanked.
It was common to hear from younger men and women that “I don’t like strangers thanking me for my service on Memorial Day because they don’t know me. They don’t know my reason for serving or how I feel about it now that I am in.”
What Should You Say To Show Your gratitude?
So what you should say to a veteran on Memorial Day depends on who you are talking to and how well you know them.
Older veterans are more inclined to welcome a “Happy Memorial Day” or “Thank You For Your Service”.
Younger veterans feel it is a much more sensitive topic. The less you know a younger veteran the less likely they are to welcome unsolicited “Happy Memorial Day” or “Thank You For Your Service” on Memorial Day. They may appreciate your gratitude and they know you’re offering your respect, but they are less likely to welcome it.
Some Ideas Of What To Say To Those That Served Or Are Serving (if they welcome it)
What do you say to military on Memorial Day? Below we offer some suggestions of what to say as well as what not to say.
Thank you and may those you lost rest in peace.”
Simply thanking the veteran for what he or she did while serving can give them some appreciation.
Telling a veteran that you really appreciate their service to the United States reminds them that their sacrifice and the lives of those that served in the armed forces with them will not be forgotten. But once again, this is actually a sensitive topic. Older veterans tend to be more welcome to your unsolicited appreciation. Younger veterans may not, it depends on the person.
As we previously mentioned, know your audience with this one. Before doing any of the below we recommend asking a veteran’s comfortable discussing their thoughts and experiences.
When and where did you serve?
Some vets will wear items that are a reminder of their time in a war. Veterans wearing these reminders are more receptive to discuss their time in the military. When you ask, be prepared to spend time and listen to what they have to say. It could very well be a special moment for both of you.
What do you miss?
Asking what they miss can lead to a special conversation. See where they take the conversation.
Do you have any stories you are comfortable sharing?
Every veterans experience when they served is different. Some may want to share their stories, and others would rather reflect on their time. There are also veterans who would rather not remember their experience. If a veteran is comfortable with it, ask if they will share stories. Then, just listen.
Thank you so much for serving our country the way you did. I am proud to be your friend/daughter/cousin/etc. You may not think of yourself like this but to me you really are a hero.”
Be careful with this one. Many veterans do not feel they are heroes but just have done their duty in the United States. This is especially true with veterans that have not been to war. Read the person before saying anything further. They may be humble or they may truly not feel the way you do about being a hero.
Remember that a lot of these younger men and women are committed to a position that they no longer want to be in. You thanking them does not change their situation or feelings.
Something we heard in our interviews was if they are told that they are heroes, when they do not feel they are may heroes actually make them feel worse.
On Memorial Day, veterans may also be grieving and thinking about their fallen friends that have died. That is what the day is celebrating after all. It’s a day of remembrance.
Memorial Day Quotes If You Are A Veteran
This situation is a little different. If you are a veteran then consider thanking your friends, family, and loved ones.
“Thank you for your sacrifice”
Tell those you love how much you appreciate them. They too have given up a lot and it’s important for them to know how much that means to you.
How To Honor Veterans on Memorial Day
How do you respectfully honor veterans on Memorial Day? Realize that thanking someone may be more sensitive than you realize.
The best way to show your support is to follow the veteran’s lead and have your actions speak louder than words.
You can donate to show support. You can also show support by laying flowers on graves at your local Veterans cemetery. Here in St. Louis, MO we have one of the largest Veteran’s cemeteries at Jefferson Barracks. Visit a military cemetery and lay flowers on graves.
Do Not Confuse Memorial Day For Veteran’s Day
What is the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day? Memorial Day is a day of remembrance and reflection honoring the fallen men and women that sacrificed their life protecting our nation and keeping us free.
Veterans Day, not Memorial Day, is the perfect opportunity to thank a veteran. The difference between the holidays is meaningful.
Veterans Day is always on the same date (November 11th). This is known as Armistice Day around the world. It’s the day that commemorates the end of World War I.
Armed Forces Day is another day of celebration. It falls on the third Saturday in May. The difference between the three holidays is:
- Armed Forces Day: Celebration of current troops
- Memorial Day: Day to pay homage to our fallen troops
- Veterans Day: Celebration of all active or retired troops
Remember What Memorial Day Is All About
It’s important to be appreciative and show gratitude and respect every day of those that protect us, but also be sensitive to what this day truly means. Be sensitive that not all veterans feel that the day is happy.
The first quote is from an Air Force veteran who is about to be deployed. The second is from an Air Force Major. Both asked to be anonymous.
“We choose this life in order to protect our loved ones and the future of the country just like so many did before us. There are a lot of unknowns that we face day to day that the civilian population might not see or understand. Fighting for the country gives the American people hope, reassurance that no matter what we will give the ultimate sacrifice to defend our home land.
As someone who is about to deploy and be away for an extended period of time it’s hard. Not knowing what’s ahead of me, but what I do know is that I do my job for the American people to keep them safe at whatever cost that may be.
So, being thanked shows that people care and show support of what we do. It’s reassuring to know people do support us and understand the sacrifices we have chose to made to keep this country free and safe.”Air Force (about to be deployed)
“What in my opinion should you do to show support on Memorial Day? Fly a flag and don’t be ashamed to be a patriotic American. This can get political quickly, but critical theory has made people ashamed of being American due to the bad our country has done and what we have done right has been ignored.
Think back to 9/11 when everyone flew a flag. We were all part of something. We can all be part of showing our support for the ultimate sacrifice, (just so we can drink a beer and grill out at a lake on Memorial Day) simply by flying a flag.
That’s what Memorial Day is really about. (But what do I know?)A Major (Anonymous)
Erin is the mother of identical twin girls and their slightly older brother. She is a domestic engineer, and previously had a career leading customer service teams for a major HVAC company. Cleaning without harsh chemicals, and cooking easy and usually healthy meals are part of Erin's daily life. She volunteers with youth leaders, and genuinely wants to help others win. Erin has a degree in Communications, with a focus on Broadcast Journalism.