When Johnny Varner thinks of Memorial Day, he doesn’t think of the best sale going on around town, being off work or getting a free meal at his favorite restaurant. He thinks of crosses and flags.
“I kind of visualize it and feel like that should be what it is,” said Varner, who served in the Army in Iraq in 2003. “It should be a day for remembering and honoring the personnel that have died for their service to their country.”
Varner, 56, said instead of Memorial Day being a day of remembrance for those who have died in military service, Memorial Day has become commercialized and lost much of its meaning. Oftentimes, people pay too much attention to veterans who are still alive as opposed to those who have died.
“I think that people get it mixed up with a celebration, when in reality, it’s memorializing veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” Varner said.
He, along with other veterans, hope Memorial Day will soon return to its original intent.
“The thing about Veterans day is it’s Armistice Day, so that’s dedicated to the veterans, but Memorial Day is basically what it is,” Varner said. “It’s a memorial. That’s the day that you visit those graves and you put those flags down.”
Every year, Varner puts flags out along the sidewalk at his home. He hopes to see more around town, because he believes that’s one way to remind people what the day is about, as well as teach children at a young age so they don’t grow up only seeing the commercialized version of Memorial Day.
“That one image of that flag will start that messaging, because the young are going to ask that innocent question,” Varner said.
For Samuel Walley, the solution isn’t so easy.
“I noticed in my class the other day … the teacher just sat there talking about the holiday and said, ‘We’re going on holiday this weekend,’” said Walley, who served in the Army in Afghanistan in 2012. “He talked about the holiday and never said Memorial Day. So most people, I truly don’t believe they even realize what Memorial Day is at all. Period. It’s just a federal holiday.”
Walley, 26, said the importance of Memorial Day began to fade when it became an official federal holiday in 1971. Instead of people thinking every day about service members who had been killed, it turned to just one day.
“A lot of us, especially the families, have to live with this every day of their lives, so one day is merely not enough,” Walley said. “Honestly, observing Memorial Day is not enough. I think focusing on one day makes you forget the rest of the year.”
And in his mind, simply placing flags along the road won’t help much.
“I think that’s minute,” Walley said. “I think that’s throwing a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging wound.”
When people thank veterans on Memorial Day or when restaurants offer free meals, it’s not that veterans don’t appreciate the support, they just wish the support was directed toward remembering veterans who died.
“It does bother a lot of us veterans,” said Dave Dellinger, who served in the Navy in Vietnam from 1959 to 1967. “It isn’t about those that gave the ultimate sacrifice anymore, it’s about the big Memorial Day sales. Everything you see is Memorial Day sales and that’s kind of putting us down a little bit.”
For veterans, it’s simple. They want people to remember what the day is about. It’s not about them, but about the friends and family that were killed while in the military.
Dellinger, 79, said he wishes more people would observe Memorial Day as it’s supposed to be observed. He urges people to think about what the day is supposed to mean, instead of simply celebrating it on the lake or with a new pair of shoes.
“Every family probably has somebody,” Dellinger said. “It may be a grandparent, great grandparent or uncle. But everybody has somebody in their family that was a veteran.”