Don’t Thank Me On Memorial Day

As a veteran who served over a decade with the US Army, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t write a post in honor of Memorial Day. 

Before I joined and spent a little time in the Army, I didn’t really know the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. To me, they were both about people who served in the military. Memorial Day was a day for cook-outs and all of that. Serving in the military brings a different perspective on life, and it definitely brought a different perspective for me.

For one, Memorial Day isn’t just about cook-outs, although I enjoy the food and drinks. It’s considered the unofficial first day of the summer season, but since I was never a pool kind of guy, that really didn’t mean much to me.

The title of this post might seem insensitive to some people. But if they knew the meaning behind it, they would know that it’s actually insensitive to thank me on Memorial Day, and why it’s even more insensitive to honor me and all of my living comrades. So do me a huge favor–don’t thank me for serving, in celebration of Memorial Day. Don’t post on my wall or send me messages saying happy Memorial Day. If you post anything on my wall about Memorial Day, post something that has something to do with remembering vets who died while in service. To do so would be completely disrespectful.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be appreciated for providing our lives to defend this nation and our way of life, regardless of the current climate (we’re not going to talk about that right now). But for all of us vets and current service members that are here on this Earth, still breathing and existing, Memorial Day has nothing to do with us. If you want to piss off a vet, wish them happy Memorial Day.

According to history.com, Memorial Day is “an American holiday, observed on the last Monday of May, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military.” DIED. Not living. Service members who paid the ultimate sacrifice, which was the sacrifice of their lives. Not people who simply chose to join the military. People who literally lost their lives, in the service of this nation. Those are the ones that we should be honoring on Memorial Day, not people like me who are still blessed to be here after it’s over.

To put this in perspective, and I’m coming up with this analogy because of a post I saw on someone’s Facebook page, as well as a conversation I had with a friend of mine, saying Happy Memorial Day is like say “Happy Dead Day.” There’s nothing happy about death, whether it’s friends, family, or comrades, regardless of the cause. In general, death isn’t celebrated, at least not that I know of. It’s remembered. If it is a celebration, in general it is a celebration of life of that person, not a celebration of the actual death.

The barbecues and chilling is fine. But like what I’ve always encouraged about understanding mental health, do a little research about Memorial Day. Then break your research down from there. I did, and I was enlightened.

I’m going to end this post by talking about one soldier in particular. One of my Army buddies posted and tagged me and a bunch of other people from my first unit, Charlie Company 1-21 Infantry, 25th ID (Tropic Lightning) on Saturday. 1-21 IN was based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Not going to lie; when I saw his post, it made me choke up a little. I was a 19-year-old boy from Mississippi, stationed on an island over 4,000 miles from home. My first platoon sergeant was Staff Sergeant Louis Leavell (within a few short month of my arrival, he became Sergeant First Class; I hope he don’t get mad at me for mentioning him in my blog…LOL). I remember being miserable my first few months on that island because it was so far away from home and my first few months in the Army was not going my way (I realized later in life that it was possible my bipolar disorder was starting to fully come alive after remaining somewhat hidden in high school, but we’re not here to talk about that).

There was one sergeant who wasn’t there when I first arrived to my unit in early January 2000 (I first got to Hawaii a week before Christmas 1999), but I met him about a month or two later. He was away, going through school to become an Army Ranger (if you don’t know what an Army Ranger is, I suggest you research their very rich history). When I met him, I had an admiration for him because he completed the course and had the Ranger tab on his uniform; I thought Rangers and Special Forces (what civilians know as the Green Berets) were so cool and I wanted to be one. I rarely have an admiration for anyone, but I admired him. While I vaguely remember the first time I met him, I remember him being a complete asshole to me, but then he was very cool.

His name was Jake Whetten. Everybody loved him. He was a proud soldier; the definition of what a soldier should be, especially an infantry soldier. While I didn’t spend time with him like a lot of other people did, aside from soldiering and about two or three occasions outside of uniform, I greatly respected him. He also had the respect of everyone else. He was just that kind of guy; a stand up guy. He had a little West Coast swag to him; that was one thing that stood out to me besides the downright soldiering. He was all about work, but he was also all about chilling and relaxing when the time allowed. Soldier came first, then play, but he knew how to balance it. You couldn’t help but follow and admire that.

RIP SFC Whetten
RIP SFC Whetten

He added me on Facebook in March 2009. I still have the message from him. He wanted to make sure that it was me. Called me lil brother. While that might not mean much to many people, for me no one can call me brother or anything similar unless they are my closest friends or some of my Army buddies. Otherwise, I hate when people do that. I made an exception for him because of the reasons I stated, plus as I just said, I greatly respected him. A little less than a year later, and a couple of weeks before I left the Army, he was killed serving doing what he loved, serving our country.

It’s people like him that Memorial Day should be dedicated to. It’s people like him that you should be thanking and remembering. Veterans Day is the day for ALL of us, whether we are living or not. But not Memorial Day. Let them have their day. Think about that before you form your mouth to tell a living vet or service member to say “Happy Memorial Day”.

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