I didn't hear her at first. I was standing in the long line
at the grocery store, texting my husband to let him know I'd be home as soon as
I could with the chicken and corn for the cookout, when the woman behind me
asked, "Are you in the Navy?"
Since I'm about as far from having a military physique as a
cantaloupe, I thought she was speaking to someone else. We live in one the
largest military communities in the country, so it's not an unusual question.
Then she asked again. I blinked, realized she was pointing to the blue and
white U.S. Navy lanyard on my keychain and I smiled at her. "No, my husband
She touched my arm gently and returned the smile. "Thank you both for your service. Happy Memorial Day."
It isn't the first time I've experienced the kindness of
patriotic strangers, and my husband has similar interactions every time he's out
in public in his uniform. While we both appreciate the sentiment, Memorial Day
is not a day to thank our men and women in uniform. Not to be confused with
Veteran's Day, which is the day to pay tribute to those who serve or have
served in the armed forces, Memorial Day is the day to honor those who have
sacrificed their lives in service to our country.
I feel like an imposter accepting undeserved accolades on any military holiday, but especially on Memorial Day.
Before I became a military spouse, I remembered the
difference between Memorial Day and Veteran's Day with a trick taught to me by
my high school American history teacher. He told us to think of the phrase "in
memoriam"—a Latin phrase meaning "in memory of"—in relation to Memorial Day.
After I married a sailor, the mnemonic device became unnecessary; I'm profoundly
aware of the difference between the holidays.
My husband is alive and home with
me, able to throw a cookout over the long holiday weekend whenever he isn't deployed.
I feel very, very grateful to be with my husband on Memorial Day, knowing there
are thousands of spouses and families who are mourning the loss of their loved
I would never correct someone who offers their support and
thanks to my husband or me. I realize that I am, in a way, a representative of
the military, and I am touched by their patriotism. And yet, whenever someone
says "Thank you" on Memorial Day I feel a moment of discomfort before I manage
to say, "You're welcome, but I'm only the spouse—he's the one who does the
job." (President Ronald Reagan established Military Spouse Appreciation Day in
1984 and it is celebrated on the Friday before Mother's Day.) My husband is
always very gracious, he truly is an officer and a gentleman, but I know he
feels similarly about accepting gratitude on a day set aside to pay respects to
There is almost a sense of guilt in accepting the gratitude
of strangers or friends who aren't in the military, as I don't wear the uniform
and the only oath I took was to love and support my husband. I want to explain
to them that I feel like an imposter accepting undeserved accolades on any
military holiday, but especially on Memorial Day.
We are the ones who are
thankful. We are the lucky ones, I want to tell them. We have endured the
hardships of military life, yes, but we have so much to be grateful for on this
holiday weekend. Because we are together.