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A Primer on Military Holidays

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Thank the person who displays this sticker in front of their office for their military service.

You may have seen the stickers displayed on office doors of faculty and staff members throughout campus: a flame-orange background with an eco-green border that reads VETERAN in big, bold white letters with a white UT Dallas logo underneath them. As you can probably surmise, the people who display this sticker have served in one of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces — Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy. If you ever see one of those stickers, be sure to thank that person for his or her service. Veterans will probably feel honored and a bit awkward at the same time because they appreciate that you respect the sacrifices they made to serve the cause of freedom but usually don’t like to draw attention to those sacrifices. At the same time, they may have had a few experiences with others who thanked them but then went on to say or ask something that bordered on or crossed over into disrespect, whether intentional or not. Some may have asked them if they were in a war, or wanted to know what combat was like. That’s never appropriate, no matter what day of the year. Simply say, “Thank you for your service,” and save those other questions for a veteran you know — and know very well.

While we’re on the subject, if you really want to thank a veteran, then remember the old axiom that “actions speak louder than words” and do something tangible for veterans, many of whom struggle when transitioning back into civilian life. At the very least, do them the honor of reacting in an appropriate manner to each of the three days of the year that officially have been dedicated to veterans.

I say “in an appropriate manner” because, year after year, these holidays seem to trip up many people. I’m talking about Memorial Day, Armed Forces Day and Veterans Day.

If there’s one sure way to get a military veteran worked up, it’s saying “Happy Memorial Day!” within earshot right before you head out to a cookout. This is the Ugly Civilian syndrome at its worst. You see, the purpose of the holiday is not to stuff ourselves with barbecue, potato salad and coleslaw. Yes, that smoked brisket is a fringe benefit and many people associate Memorial Day with the first long weekend of the summer, but the true purpose of the holiday observed annually on the last Monday in May is to commemorate and honor all the men and women who died in military service to their country. The word “happy” doesn’t really fit into that equation (unless we speak in hushed, reverent tones of a life well-lived), nor is the holiday intended for the living members, and living veterans, of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Another military holiday that confuses non vets is Armed Forces Day, which falls on the third Saturday of May and comes at the tail end of Armed Forces Week, which begins on the second Saturday of May. The purpose of this holiday is to honor the brave men and women currently in uniform. While it is generally harmless to thank a veteran on Armed Forces Day, keep in mind that it is not really our day. We much prefer that you thank a soldier, Marine, airman (yes, that’s still the official title), sailor or Coast Guardsman who is currently serving his or her country with honor, distinction and bravery.

Which brings us to Veterans Day, which falls on November 11. Since many of us will be on campus that Friday, remember that this holiday is intended to honor all those women and men who served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces, in wartime or peacetime. Yes, it is quite appropriate to remember the deceased on this day, too, but — according to the Veterans Administration’s Office of Public Affairs — “Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service, to acknowledge that their contributions to our national security are appreciated, and to underscore the fact that all those who served — not only those who died — have sacrificed and done their duty.”

While every day is an appropriate one for respectfully thanking a military veteran for honorable service to the country, Veterans Day is the day that has been set aside specifically for that purpose. If you enjoy the liberties you have, then please keep in mind the lyric to that Billy Ray Cyrus song, “All gave some; some gave all.” The first part of that line is for Veterans Day and Armed Forces Day, while the second part is strictly reserved for Memorial Day.

Jimmie Markham

Jimmie Markham brings a widely-ranging life and professional experience to his job as a communications manager at JSOM.  As an infantryman in the U.S. Army, he learned to “improvise, adapt and overcome” and that “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  He’s been dealing with the unexpected ever since and, in doing so, has become a skilled and dedicated communications/marketing/customer-service and sales-support professional with nearly 20 years of experience using improvisational, critical-thinking, technical and people skills to advance the interests of external and internal clients. A BA in Art & Performance (creative writing emphasis) from UT Dallas helped polish his natural predilection and passion for the written word. Read more articles

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