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This Year, Memorial Day Has Special Meaning

The pandemic reminds us of all the sacrifices veterans have made

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Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

En español | It's hard for me to believe that this is Memorial Day weekend. For many of us, this is likely to be the strangest Memorial Day we have ever experienced — no parades, large picnics or family gatherings; no concerts, baseball games or other sporting events to attend; no swimming pools opening for the summer; and only limited access to parks and other recreation areas. It just doesn't feel like the beginning of summer.

Nevertheless, we should not let this diminish or keep us from commemorating the true meaning of Memorial Day as a time to honor our veterans and those who gave their lives for our country.

When Gen. John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the Union veterans group known as the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) in May 1868, it was to honor the soldiers who died during the Civil War. It wasn't until World War I that the commemoration was expanded to include those from all wars who sacrificed their lives for our country. It became a federal holiday in 1971.


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This year, as we continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic, Memorial Day takes on special meaning. Not only do we pay tribute to our veterans from previous wars, we also honor those who have died from complications of COVID-19, many of them in nursing homes and other long-term care settings. We salute caregivers, nurses, doctors and our other health care heroes who are on the front lines fighting to defeat this deadly virus as well as the volunteers across the country who give of their time to help their fellow citizens endure.

We know from our ongoing work with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to address the specific needs of veterans, service members and their families that many military families provide unpaid care to loved ones following their service. This can be a sizable strain on the caregivers’ financial, emotional and physical health. The pandemic has only made their task more difficult. AARP is continuing to provide information, resources and additional types of support (including advocacy) to help family caregivers and those they care for, whether living in their homes and communities, in nursing homes, or in other long-term care facilities.

Finally, this Memorial Day, let's also thank our friends, neighbors and coworkers who have kept our grocery stores, gas stations and other essential services open, who have delivered our mail and our packages, and who have sacrificed and put themselves at greater risk so the rest of us can reduce ours and remain safe.

We may not be able to observe this Memorial Day in the usual way, but we can — and should — salute the indomitable American spirit that shines brightly during these troubled times. By working together, making individual sacrifices for the greater good, hunkering down, following the coronavirus guidelines and showing compassion for one another, we are not only making it through these difficult days, we are rediscovering our sense of community and becoming stronger as a nation — the very thing our veterans fought for. That is indeed something to commemorate.

Have a safe Memorial Day, everyone.

Previous Message: Looking Out for Your Health During the Coronavirus Crisis

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