This weekend is Memorial Day, our national holiday to honor those who have lost their lives serving in the military and defending our country. My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one serving our country, especially to those for whom this pain is recent and raw. Our nation is strong, and we are all safer because of their service and sacrifice.

It is only fitting that we remember and honor the men and women who serve our country. To commemorate this occasion, I wanted to share my deep connection to the holiday and recognize all those who work on behalf of us to safeguard the ideals of democracy around the world.

What Memorial Day Means to Me

Growing up, Memorial Day was a time when I heard stories about my grandfather, John Scally, a paratrooper in World War II. I was just six years old when he died, but I remember him as a kind man who pushed me in my stroller on the streets of Philadelphia. As an adult, I began to truly appreciate what he and so many others did in the war.

My father was a sergeant in the Army, and then joined the Philadelphia police force, serving as a detective for many years before partnering with the Federal DEA. He made sure that we understood the service of our grandfather and the sacrifice and bravery of the many men and women in uniform. As a kid, he was mostly just my dad—taking me with him when he ran errands and building me the best backyard playhouse (with bunk beds!)—but, again, it is with the wisdom of age that I truly see his strength and nobility. I always felt safe as a child, and now I feel I understand what a true calling to serve he had, working hard to help everyone feel safer.

It will probably be no surprise to learn that I am married into the military too! My husband, Todd Munson, was an officer in the Navy receiving his commission through NROTC at UPenn. He was on active duty from 1991-1997, including several years aboard the USS McInerney (FFG 8) and onshore as the Supervisor of Shipbuilding in Groton, CT.

I truly respect my husband—and I also smile to myself a little when I think that he was personally responsible for steering a humongous Navy ship! His faith in God, leadership, and strength of character are inspiring. He cares for our children and keeps us safe. He is the protector of our family, and I am so, so proud that he, like my father and grandfather, was the protector of others as well. 

Commemorating Memorial Day

Memorial Day used to be celebrated annually on May 30 until 1971, when Congress made it a permanent Monday holiday. This cemented Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer for many people. Some bemoan this fact, thinking that it takes away from the original meaning of the holiday. I can understand this view but don’t necessarily agree. People commemorate the holiday in different ways.

For many, Memorial Day is a weekend of road races, BBQs, and backyard games with only a tangential connection to the holiday. Others will visit gravesites, veterans’ hospitals, and nursing homes or privately remember and mourn cherished family members of any generation. Volunteers will plant millions of flags at cemeteries across the U.S.

It may seem like an either/or choice—lighthearted summer fun or a solemn day—but I don’t think it is. I think most of us blend these two sides of Memorial Day together. Solemn remembrance and joy are not mutually exclusive. The ability to spend time with family and friends, having fun and enjoying the outdoors, is exactly what I think our fallen service men and women would want us to do. Yes, they want to be remembered—perhaps not with sadness but with respect and a great BBQ.

My father passed away in February 2023, and I know my weekend will include both tears and laughter as I remember him. I’ll make sure my children know about his service, as well as their great-grandfather’s and their father’s service. As they grow older, we’ll make sure they fully understand and respect the sacrifices too many have made to keep our country safe and strong.

In accordance with the National Moment of Remembrance Act, we’ll stop our celebrations at 3:00pm and take a moment to acknowledge the solemn side of the holiday. But I’m going to make sure we also enjoy the sack races, a hot dog with mustard, and running around late with friends catching fireflies!

Have a meaningful Memorial Day!

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