Memorial Day here in the States brings to mind pools, parties and barbeques for most people. And it is a fun kick-off to summer, especially when people have a long weekend to celebrate. But I also like to spend this time thinking about what Memorial Day is actually meant for- honoring veterans and military service members, especially those that have given their lives for our country.
Maybe as an Army spouse I’m more likely to think about this aspect of the holiday than other people might, but I think it’s important for us all to remember current service members and veterans in the midst of our celebrations. I love how grateful people seem to be of service members these days, and it’s nice for my husband to hear someone thank him for his service. But there are other, more tangible ways to show gratitude on Memorial Day weekend and beyond. For example you’ve probably seen veterans wearing VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) hats, selling small red flowers. Do you know what those are? They are poppies, with the particular design trademarked as Buddy Poppies, which refers to a famous poem written about World War I by a Canadian officer, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row by row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The poppies are made by military veterans to give them a source of income and the money raised by their sale goes to paying the veterans who make the poppies as well as supporting VFW charitable causes. Before I knew the background of the poppies, I wasn’t always inclined to purchase one. But now I will go out of my way to a buy a few.
Donating money to organizations supporting wounded warriors is a quick and easy way to support our troops, if you are financially able (which I realize is not the case for everyone). Fisher House and The Wounded Warrior Project are two of my favorite organizations. The Fisher House organization builds housing that enables the families of wounded warriors to live near their service member while he or she is receiving medical care. Wounded warriors that are in outpatient care can also use the facilities. These family members are often overwhelmed with the task of assisting their warrior receive care, and removing the concern over housing lifts a huge burden. The Wounded Warrior Project seeks to help wounded warriors transition back into society by raising public awareness and helping injured service members to support one another.
Both of these organizations can use volunteers as well, if donating money isn’t something you’re able to do. Fisher Houses are run independently, so you can locate one near you and contact them to ask how you can help. I know one of our local Fisher Houses have volunteers come in to clean and organize the pantry and to occasionally make meals. There are lots of things that “need doing” so check with Fisher House and The Wounded Warrior Project to see how you can volunteer your time and skills.
Another way to help service members is to donate blood at a Military Blood Donor Center. While the military does use blood products from other agencies (like the Red Cross, so you can donate through them if you don’t have a Military Blood Donor Center nearby), it also has it’s own network of donor centers. Donating blood is always a great way to do a public service, but when you donate at a Military Blood Donor Center you will definitely be making a difference in the lives of service members. Those blood products are used by the military and are often in short supply. My husband was in a Blood Support Detachment in Afghanistan that coordinated the entire supply of blood products in theater, so I know how dire the need for blood can be. It is absolutely the difference between life and death in many cases and donating is something you can do, with little effort on your part. Please, please, please donate at one of the military’s donor centers if you live near one. Service members everywhere will benefit!
There are many more ways to give back, these are just a few. Smaller things like mowing the lawn or helping run an errand for a family with a service member deployed can make life just that much easier. And if you want to thank someone for their service donating time, money, or blood can be a great way to demonstrate your gratitude.
You should enjoy your weekend. You should rock out at the barbeque, swim in the newly opened pool, or enjoy the burgers with your friends. But just for a moment, also think about the reason you have the day off. You can make a difference and help service members and veterans who need it.
I definitely didn’t mention everything and I’d love to hear how other families and individuals are reaching out! What are some of your favorite ways to give back to troops and veterans?