Memorial Day Weekend has come to be viewed as an unofficial kick off to summer. While many use the long weekend as an opportunity for trips, mini-vacations, parties and cookouts, it's important to also remember what Memorial Day is actually about, and how we can best honor the memories of those who have given so much for our country.
Unlike Veteran's Day, which honors all of those who fight or have fought to defend our country, or Independence Day, which is a day of celebration for America and our freedom, Memorial Day is a day set aside specifically for honoring those who have died for the United States. It's more of a day of respect and reverence than one of celebration.
For people who fly flags outside of their homes and businesses, it is part of the flag code to have flags at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day. As is tradition for flags that are flown at half-staff, the flag should first be hoisted to the height of the pole for an instant before being brought down to half-staff. After noon the flag is fully raised again.
Half-staff flag flying at the Michigan capitol building. Photo by Matt Katzenberger
The flag is traditionally only flown from dawn until dusk, raised briskly and lowered more slowly. If you wish to keep your flag up at night, it's supposed to have lights directed towards it. If the weather is poor, flags should be taken in unless they are all-weather flags. All-weather flags are water resistant and very durable to prevent tears and stains. A flag that does become torn, faded or worn is no longer suitable for display and must be respectfully disposed of. An unsuitable flag may be burned ceremoniously, or you can contact your local veteran's organization or government office which may have collections of used flags to dispose of respectfully. When flying additional flags on the same staff (such as a state flag) the American flag must always be in the top position.
For people who wish to honor specific veterans who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country by decorating graves and headstones, it is important that you check what the rules are for your local cemetery. Some do not allow artificial flowers, planting shrubs or flowers or decorations that stay past an alloted amount of time. When leaving flags in cemeteries that do not have a time limit on decorations, opt for weather-resistant materials like nylon instead of cotton, which will not hold up to the elements as well.
Flags by graves at Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by The U.S. Army
Another way to honor Memorial Day is by doing something for living Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen. Donating time or resources to a veteran's organization, like the Wounded Warrior Project, can be a significant way to give back. If you want to honor a specific fallen veteran, you could make your donation in his or her name.
Communities all over the nation will be hosting parades, ceremonies and other events to acknowledge the meaning behind Memorial Day. Check your local resources to see about the events in your area that you can attend, or watch national programs, like the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., Sunday night at 8 p.m.