“Not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions, but there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men.” Pericles’s words, which were a tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Peloponnesian War, ring as true today as they did then.

It’s true that for many, Memorial Day just so happens to coincide with the beginning of warmer weather, which leads to barbecues and get-togethers around the nation. Also, for some odd reason, it also leads to mattress sales on a biblical scale. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially in light of the fact so few Americans actually know someone who has died in defense of the nation. On a macro scale, that’s a good problem to have.

The names of Rangers who were killed in action are memorialized within the 1st Ranger Battalion compound on Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. ©Marty Skovlund, Jr.

But if you look closer, the social implications of treating the day simply as the kick off of grilling season are disheartening. Rather, we should seize the opportunity to inspire peers and the younger generation alike with the memory of the fallen.

This, for obvious reasons, may be easier said than done for many. The day was founded on centuries of tradition, which then led to being informally recognized in the United States right after the Civil War, and then formally proclaimed a national holiday by congress in 1971. For many in the military, or those who served or know someone who did, Memorial Day takes on a more somber tone. The day forces those of us who knew good men and women who fell in combat to think about the sadness surrounding such a personal loss. For those unlucky enough to be present for their death, they are forced to relive that moment over and over throughout the holiday. Is it fair to have a holiday that causes so many to suffer while others get drunk and burn hamburgers?

It is. It’s a necessary evil for some, but also an opportunity to, as Pericles said, let the fallen live on “in the hearts of men.” That can be done by breaking bread with your family, neighbors and friends on the holiday, and living in the spirit of those no longer with us. Talk about them; tell stories of their heroics but also their personality that you so fondly remember. You may not reach everyone, but in that effort you make Memorial Day more about the holidays intended purpose for those within your sphere of influence.

I recognize that the audience that will likely be reading this already has a name or names that come to mind on Memorial Day. But for those that don’t know anyone who served, or made the ultimate sacrifice, take it upon yourself to look up the biography of someone killed in action, and learn about them. Remember their name, and tell their story when given the opportunity at whatever gathering you find yourself at on Monday. The day need not turn into a funeral, but remember the reason for the day, and be thankful for the 1.1 million who have died in the name of our country.

Don’t resent your neighbor for their lighthearted approach to the day; be thankful that we live in a time where so few have experienced the pain of losing a loved one in combat.

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