The Importance of Memorial Day
by Sarah Nichols
Growing up, camping made the top of my list as some of my favorite family vacations — and my husband’s too. His family traveled to the mountains every Memorial Day for a four-day weekend full of wiffle ball games, fishing and campfires. I was thrilled to receive an invitation to this tradition about a year after we started dating.
I know this wasn’t just their tradition; Memorial Day is a popular camping weekend. Sometimes you have to book a campsite months in advance. Or, if you prefer to camp in remote places like my father-in-law, you must trek up the mountains days before the holiday weekend and reserve your spot by setting up camp. For non-campers, Memorial Day is a time when community pools open, and a sign summer has begun.
I learned about Memorial Day years ago, as a child behind a desk, under fluorescent lighting in my school room. But it wasn’t until we became a military family that I understood the heaviness of the long weekend. After all, it’s a day to honor American Veterans who sacrificed their lives for our nation.
First married, I worked as a secretary at a pediatric center. During my time there, I checked in countless numbers of kids. Some were sick, and some were there for routine well-child checks. I remember a set of twins, just babies. As I reviewed paperwork and protocols with their mom, I learned their dad, while away at war, had just died.
My heart broke for this family I didn’t know, but there was a naivety. I didn’t fully grasp the sacrifice military members and their loved ones made every day. I never stopped to think about the selfless acts men and women were doing every moment of every day to ensure our nation’s security.
A year and a half later, I was pregnant with our first child, and my husband joined the Air Force. I was no longer naive, just proud and maybe a little fearful. It was important to me that our kids felt that same pride I did, and learned to appreciate those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
I spent over a decade as a military spouse, and when we lived on base, it was easy to do this. Music greeted us throughout the base three times a day. Before the sun rose, it began with Reveille, signaling the start of the duty day. Around dinnertime, we heard Retreat, followed by the national anthem.
In our midwest backyard on Tinker Air Force Base, our kids learned from a young age to stop what they were doing and face the music. A few hours after the Star-Bangled Banner and the sun had set, the day would end with one last song, Taps. It indicated the day was over and reminded us of the service members who died and paid the ultimate price.
Teaching my children the importance of Memorial Day started with the songs that flowed through our cookie-cutter base housing. They quickly learned to place their little hands over their hearts for the national anthem.
When they were a little older, we were stationed just outside D.C. I’ll never forget taking them to the Arlington National Cemetery, and seeing rows and rows of loved ones whose lives were lost. Or the many memorials throughout the city, covered with inscriptions of names representing them.
We haven’t lived on a base in years, but our family took a trip last fall and stayed at a Navy Base on Coronado Island. Even during vacation mode in the middle of barbequing on the beach, when the national anthem started to play at five o’clock, the kids stopped and faced the music, as did the neighboring families also on vacation.
We didn’t know these people, but we participated in this solem act of respect and thankfulness together. And I appreciated the sentiment.
Not all of us have served in the military or personally know someone who gave their life for our country. Regardless, it’s essential to teach our children the importance of Memorial Day.
3 Ways to Teach Your Children the Importance of Memorial Day
- Talk to your children about Memorial Day. Consider those who paid the ultimate sacrifice throughout Memorial weekend and the day itself. Turn these conversations into prayers for the service members’ families.
- Visit a local Veterans cemetery or war memorial and pay tribute. Decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers and flags. (At the Arlington National Cemetery, they have a wreath-laying ceremony. We didn’t get to attend this, but participating would be an honor if we ever find ourselves back in the area on Memorial Day.)
- Celebrate intentionally. Whether you are attending a parade, camping or welcoming summer at your community pool, be sure to honor those who have protected our country with their very lives. Share a moment of silence or sing a song.
Enjoy your weekend, but most importantly, remember the fallen and their families, lifting them and our country up in prayer.
Sarah Nichols is a writer who loves encouraging women by sharing hope-filled stories that point others to Jesus. She lives in Tucson, AZ, with her husband and four kids. You can find more from Sarah at sarahnicholswrites.com