How to celebrate Memorial Day the right way

Most American holidays are celebrated with an abundance of alcohol, food and shopping. America’s Independence Day is undoubtedly one of the biggest celebrations, marked by fireworks, barbecues, and lots of drinking. Car dealerships are famous for having Presidents’ Day sales on their vehicles and the Gap recently took advantage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, introducing “MLK Weekend” discounts to bring customers in on their long weekend. The meanings of these and other American holidays are becoming lost amidst relentless consumerism.

Photo by Flickr user Celine Aussourd

The news broadcasts on Monday morning were a very interesting mix of reports of veteran and active duty soldiers who gave their lives in battle or took their own life as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), clips of parades honoring veterans and celebrating Memorial Day, and the same relentless car dealership commercial delivering its final push for vehicle sales over the holiday weekend. Newspapers featured stories about the lives of deceased soldiers that included pictures of them when they were children. In the fold of flyers that accompanies the paper, blaring ads advertised clothing at a reduced price with the urgency that the sale would end that Monday. It was simultaneously eye-opening and nauseating.

Memorial Day is only one day that is set aside each year to honor the men and women who have given everything to serve this country and protect our freedoms. Taking the day off from work to kick back with a beer next to the grill is undoubtedly exercising those freedoms, but to do it in vain without honoring the individuals who help to make it possible is to truly take them for granted. Their service is important every day of the year, whether Americans have it off from work or not.

Disturbing facts about veteran and active duty suicide have surfaced recently. NBC News reported that over 349 service members from the four branches of the military committed suicide in 2012. The suicide rate for the Army outpaced the number of service members who died in combat; 182 Army members took their own lives while 176 were killed on the ground. The Department of Defense will release its official annual report on suicides in August.

Memorial Day is not only a time to reflect and honor those who have given their life in combat, but to consider the effect of PTSD on the countless individuals who have taken their own lives. To repay these men and women by day-drinking and buying clothes and cars they don’t need is an insult to their memory. Instead of packing a closet already full of sweaters and shoes, why not donate to causes that aid the rehabilitation of veterans suffering from PTSD? Ads for useless items appear inescapable while opportunities to donate to rehabilitation programs must be sought out by the few who understand what Memorial Day should be about. Instead of taking advantage of our freedoms with a food coma and a buzz, Americans should give back to those who have given so much for us. Every summer day holds the opportunity to cook out and relax with friends. Memorial Day should be given the same respect that the physical memorials in the nation’s capital receive; reflection, understanding, appreciation, and inspiration are the best ways to honor the memories of fallen soldiers.