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Sarah PeacheyThank you Sarah Peachey and happy birthday!

            The meaning of Memorial Day has evolved over the years since its initial creation. The first Memorial Day, observed May 30, 1868, was intended to remember the Civil War dead. The meaning changed again after World War I, to include the remembrance of all service members killed in the line of duty in any war. Unfortunately, many people celebrate the holiday as just another day off, or a day for cookouts and department store sales, not as a day of remembrance. For a long time, I was one of those people.
            Someone once told me that many people aren’t concerned with the things that don’t directly affect them. I think that’s partially true. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own lives, unconcerned about anything unrelated. It doesn’t make us selfish, but rather shows what is most important to us. With less than 1 percent of the United States population serving in the military, it comes as little surprise to me that remembering the lost is not as important to those unaffiliated with the military.
            For quite some time, I viewed Memorial Day as a time for parades and cookouts, the final leg of school and the first taste of summer. I never thought deeply about what it meant, probably because I was too focused on myself. My grandfather is an Army veteran who served for 20 years with multiple tours to both Korea and Vietnam. He speaks openly about his experiences in the Army; gladly sharing funny stories, but rarely discusses his deployments, choosing to shelter his family from the sometimes-harrowing details.
            My birthday is at the end of May and has occasionally fallen on Memorial Day, as it will again this year. Obviously as a child, that’s a big distraction from the holiday. From elementary through high school, I twirled baton for a majorette corps. The first parade of the year was always in Parkesburg, Pa. on the Saturday before Memorial Day. Even with the moment of silence, 21-gun salute and veterans from a variety of wars present, I didn’t really focus on the meaning. Maybe I did at the moment the guns were fired and during the silence that followed, but once those things were over, my mind went elsewhere.
            I met my husband in the fall of 2007. He was an Army reservist at the time and was my first run-in with a service member that was currently serving. He hadn’t deployed yet, but his perspective left an impression on me. I finally understood dedication to country, maybe because I was older, or because I was suddenly directly connected to the person. I was beginning to look beyond my own life and take in the holiday’s original meaning.
            Memorial Day is about sacrifice. It’s about the brave men and women who choose to serve this country and lay down their lives for it. I know a lot of people take the time on Memorial Day to thank the veterans that have served. It’s great they choose to do that, but that type of thanks is better reserved for Veteran’s Day and Armed Forces Day. The focus of Memorial Day should remain on those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, remembering those who are no longer with us and recognizing the Gold Star Family’s sacrifice.
            I moved to Fort Polk in May 2010 knowing my husband would deploy later that year. It was my first Memorial Day on a military installation and my first true understanding of the holiday. I began to understand the commitment our service members (and families) have to this nation — seeing men and women proudly serving and their spouses alongside them, some of whom would soon say tearful goodbyes as their Soldiers deployed. And some who would not return the following year.
            It’s important to observe the day for what it is — a day of remembrance for the United States’ fallen heroes, those who had hopes of coming home and rejoining their families. Enjoy taking part in all the festivities your city has to offer. But when having cookouts, going to parades or attending festivals, take time to remember those who cannot be with their families because of their sacrifice and the families that have an empty seat because their loved one will never return home.

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Sarah Peachey is a 20-something journalist from the northeast, living in the Southwest near Fort Huachuca, AZ with her husband, two fur babies and a baby on the way. She began a career in journalism with The Fort Polk Guardian, an installation newspaper, winning two state awards for her work, and now freelances for military spouse support sites. She is an active blogger on MilitaryOneClick and her blog, “Stetsons, Spurs and Stilettos.” 

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