The Meaning of Memorial Day

Publication date: May 23, 2024

Reading time: 3 minutes

Memorial Day, observed annually on the last Monday of May, is much more than just a long weekend and the unofficial start of summer. It is a solemn occasion to honor and remember the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Read on to find out about the significance of Memorial Day and why it is essential to commemorate this day with reverence and gratitude.

Honoring the Fallen

At its core, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in service to their country. It is a time to reflect on the courage, selflessness, and sacrifice of the countless individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms and values that we hold dear. From the Revolutionary War to present day, millions of Americans have given their lives in defense of liberty and justice, and Memorial Day provides an opportunity to honor their memory.

Commemorating Sacrifice

Memorial Day is also a time to pay tribute to the families of fallen service members and express our gratitude for their sacrifice. Behind every name engraved on a memorial or buried in a military cemetery, there are loved ones who mourn their loss every day. By acknowledging their grief and offering our support, we honor the enduring legacy of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Celebrating Freedom

While Memorial Day is a solemn occasion, it is also a time to celebrate the freedoms and liberties that we enjoy as Americans. The sacrifices of those who gave their lives in service to their country have helped preserve our democratic ideals and protect our way of life. As we gather with family and friends for barbecues, picnics, and parades, let us remember that these freedoms came at a great cost and must never be taken for granted.

Paying Respects

There are many meaningful ways to observe Memorial Day and pay respects to the fallen. Visiting a local military cemetery or memorial and placing flowers on graves is a traditional way to honor the fallen and show appreciation for their service. Be sure to inquire about the specific floral requirements for the location, as it varies. The guidelines can usually be found online for the specific location.  Additional ways to pay your respects include participating in a moment of silence, attending a Memorial Day ceremony or parade in your community, or wearing or displaying a red poppy. All of these are ways to pay tribute and demonstrate solidarity with those who have lost loved ones in service.

Paying Respects with a Coin 

If you visit a military memorial or cemetery, an additional practice to show respect and honor the service member is placing a coin on the headstone. This display also signifies to the service member’s family that someone visited the grave site. Each coin has a specific and significant meaning.  A penny left on a headstone is a sign of respect. A nickel represents that you trained at boot camp with the service member, and if you served with the service member at some time in your career, a dime is left. If you were present when the service member was killed, respectfully place a quarter on the headstone.

Educating Future Generations

As we commemorate Memorial Day, it is essential to educate future generations about the significance of this solemn day and the sacrifices made by those who served. Teaching children about the history of Memorial Day, sharing stories of bravery and heroism, and instilling a sense of gratitude for the freedoms that we enjoy help ensure that the memory of our fallen heroes lives on. Memorial Day is a time-honored tradition that reminds us of the extraordinary courage, sacrifice, and valor of our nation’s military members. As we observe this solemn day, let us pause to remember and honor the brave men and women who gave their lives in service to their country. Their legacy of courage and selflessness will forever inspire us to cherish and defend the freedoms that they fought and died to protect.