Only about half of Americans know that Memorial Day honors those who died while serving in the U.S. armed forces, according to nationwide surveys conducted in recent years.

If they think about it as anything other than time off from work or for fun in the sun, many people think Memorial Day pays tribute to all military veterans just like Veterans Day.

Ceremonies held to mark Veterans Day and Memorial Day often don’t differentiate between the two, even here in Wilkes County.

One way to think of the two holidays is to consider Veterans Day as an opportunity to show appreciation by shaking the hand of a veteran who stood up for our freedoms, while Memorial Day is when we honor those who are no longer with us to receive our gratitude personally.

Memorial Day is a somber time of remembrance, especially for those who lost loved ones. It wouldn’t be appropriate to greet a veteran with “Happy Memorial Day.”

In 1968, Congress declared Memorial Day a federal holiday and moved the date to the last Monday of May. This let Americans enjoy a three-day weekend, but it diminished the true significance for many.

In 1996, a Washington, D.C.-based organization called “No Greater Love” conducted a survey of children and asked them why Memorial Day is a holiday. None of their answers indicated awareness of the real purpose of Memorial Day.

As a result, the organization came up with the “National Moment of Remembrance” to remind and help ensure future generations knew the real meaning of Memorial Day.

President Bill Clinton and Congress liked the idea and it’s been an official – if little known – tradition since 2000. On the National Moment of Remembrance, observed at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day (this year May 27), everyone is supposed to keep silent for a minute and reflect on those who died while serving in the U.S. military. It’s an appropriate time to play “Taps.”

It’s also appropriate to fly the U.S. flag at half-mast until noon and to place flags or flowers on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day.

Attend a Memorial Day ceremony. In Wilkes County, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1142 will have its annual Memorial Day ceremony at 10 a.m. May 30, which is the day the federal government recognized until it was moved to the last Monday in May.

Many think Memorial Day should be returned to May 30.

Donating funds to organizations that assist family members of those who died while in the military is a worthy way to observe Memorial Day. Nonprofits to consider supporting include:

•  Comfort Crew for Military Kids: Provides resources to help military kids and their families connect and build resiliency. At https://www.comfortcrew.org;

• Tragedy Assistance Program, offers a variety of programs to those grieving the death of a loved one serving in the Armed Forces. At https://www.taps.org;

• wear blue: run to remember, a support network for military members and their families with a goal of bridging the gap between military and civilian communities to create a living memorial for our country’s fallen military members.

The freedoms we enjoy in this holiday period were paid for at a dear price by the men and women we honor on Memorial Day.

Take time to remember those young lives that ended much too soon. Do it with gratitude and positivity, while appreciating and making the most of life.

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