Let’s Remember the Real Meaning of Memorial Day

Wes O'Donnell
3 min readMay 29
Licensed by the author from Envato Elements.

There is a foolproof way to tell when Memorial Day approaches every year: Car dealerships and mattress stores flood the airwaves advertising their Memorial Day discounts; also, grocery stores start running low on hot dog buns and charcoal and seasonal allergies are in full swing.

For millions of Americans, Memorial Day signals the start of the summer season… And nothing more.

When I was a young infantryman, this thought used to bother me: Don’t these people know what’s been lost? Don’t they know what we’ve had to give up for their cookouts and golf?

But today, as a more mature person, it occurs to me that a celebration is exactly what our comrades would have wanted their fellow Americans to have. The heroes that I served with wouldn’t want another wreath-laying ceremony. Sure, they would certainly want to be remembered, but why not celebrate everything America is about: Our shared value system, our fierce desire for individual freedom, and, of course, hamburgers on the grill.

In the United States, Memorial Day is a federal holiday for honoring and mourning the military personnel who have died in the performance of their military duties.

But for many veterans, Memorial Day takes on a different meaning entirely. For us, the day can be summed up with a single word: Sacrifice.

Number of military fatalities in all major wars involving the United States from 1775 to 2021

Graph courtesy Statista. Used with permission.

Approximately 1.3 million Americans have given their lives in exchange for something. American lives were lost during the creation of the very nation itself.

Many more lives were sacrificed to keep the Union together in one of our nation’s most perilous moments, the Civil War.

Other lives were given to prevent the spread of fascism, communism, and terrorism.

American lives were also lost to protect smaller, more vulnerable countries from larger aggressors.

We Remember Peacetime Sacrifices as…

Wes O'Donnell

Army & Air Force Veteran | Global Security Wonk for War is Boring, GEN, OneZero, Soldier of Fortune | Law Student | TEDx Speaker | Founder of Warrior Lodge