Memorial Day: Ways to Remember, Honor Veterans Who Gave All

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For Gold Star Wife and Mother Deborah Tainsh, every day is Memorial Day. Deborah’s son Patrick, a soldier, was killed in combat in Iraq in 2004. Deborah’s husband, David, a retired Marine who served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War, died in 2014 of cancer related to his military service.

Deborah’s losses are with her daily, but it’s also important to her to observe the special day set aside to honor fallen American service members like Patrick and David.

“A flag flies at my residence every day,” she says. “I will light two candles on Memorial Day.”

After moving to a new home two hundred miles away, she isn’t always able to visit her husband’s and son’s graves, but she says they are never really far from her. “They both live strong each day in my heart.”

To honor veterans appropriately, it’s important to recognize the differences between the days set aside to honor them. Veterans Day, Nov. 11, is a day to honor living veterans. Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is a day to honor veterans who have died. When the observance was established after the Civil War, it honored those who died in battle. Today, ceremonies and bereaved families everywhere remember all veterans who have died, no matter where or when.

On Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, flags are placed on hundreds of thousands of graves of veterans buried there, without regard to the place or manner of their deaths. The ceremony, called “Flags In” has been a tradition of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as the “Old Guard,” since 1948.

“I know so many families who have suffered the losses, whether on a battlefield or off,” says Deborah. “Their veteran and their service meant the world to them.”

Deborah offers some suggestions for ways to honor the memory of veterans who have served and died:

  • On Memorial Day, remember a family or person who has suffered through the death of a veteran loved one. Send a card or a message to let them know you are thinking of them.
  • At a Memorial Day picnic or barbecue, place an American flag to honor those who fought, served, and died for the country the flag represents.
  • Avoid saying “Happy Memorial Day,” because it doesn’t reflect the true meaning of the day. These words make families cringe, Deborah says. Instead, consider a phrase such as “Never forget the sacrifices” or “Remember the fallen.”

It’s nice to thank a veteran for serving, but not on Memorial Day. Deborah says: “The living veterans who were Patrick’s battle buddies are some of the first to say ‘Don’t thank me. Remember my fallen brothers.'”

And that’s what Gold Star family members like Deborah do every day.

Deborah Tainsh wrote Heart of a Hawk: One Family’s Sacrifice and Journey Toward Healing following the combat death of her son, Patrick. She collected essays from other Gold Star parents for another book, Surviving the Folded Flag: Parents of War Share Stories of Coping, Courage, and Faith.

Sgt. Patrick Shannon Tainsh, United States Army, died on Feb. 11, 2004, while serving in Iraq. He was posthumously awarded both the Bronze and Silver Stars for saving the lives of his commanding officer and other soldiers. Sgt. Major David Tainsh, United States Marine Corps (Retired) died on Dec. 2014 of cancer associated with exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.

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