Memorial Day is about honoring the women and men who died while serving in the military. The last Monday of May is the official federal holiday. While most folks view the holiday as the kickoff to summer, it’s extremely important that we remember the day for what it is: a remembrance of those who gave their lives for their country.
And ask yourself another question this Memorial Day: how can I help honor those that fight so hard for our freedom?
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Start by just saying thank you
Stacie Heaps’s husband, Shane, a veteran, served in Iraq in 2003, just six weeks after they were married. While waiting on his deployment, she took weekend trips to visit him at Joint Base Lewis-McChord just outside Tacoma, Washington.
“During my weekend visits, we experienced a few kindnesses that I will never forget,” says Heaps in an interview with MoneyUnder30.
One time while they were eating dinner at a restaurant, a couple thanked her husband for his service and gave them cash to help pay for their meal. They also attended one of the churches in the area, and a woman attending services gave them $20 and thanked her husband for his service. Once the person at the front desk of the hotel they were staying offered them a complimentary upgrade.
“These are all examples of ways that you can show true appreciation for our veterans. And honestly, the simple statement, ‘thank you for your service’ that he got also meant the world to me,” says Heaps.
She says if you’re looking for a way to show appreciation to a veteran:
“Small acts of gratitude, like paying for a meal, or the tab at the grocery store or gas station. But mostly, a kind word, anything that shows you care means so much!”
Help ease a veteran back to civilian life
Carlos Perez, a retired U.S. Army Colonel who now works as treasurer of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association, a military financial services non-profit organization, revealed his thoughts in an interview with MoneyUnder30.
Monetary donations are always needed, but he says one of the best ways to help is through career assistance and advice to empower veterans seeking secondary careers after serving. Look for ways to donate your skills, time, and experiences to help a veteran going through a career transition.
What does he suggest?
“Informal conversations where you sit with veterans to discuss their goals and share feedback from your own experience. This is particularly helpful if they have expressed specific interest in the industry you work in or type of work you do. Additionally, showing veterans that you care and are interested in their career journey helps them get comfortable talking about their aspirations and interests and it can help you identify ways to provide assistance.”
Take it further by offering to review resumes and/or staging mock interviews where you offer a civilian’s perspective on their interview style.
“Veterans possess skills such as problem-solving, organization and leadership that are well-suited to all work settings but oftentimes expressing how they obtained these skills during service can be challenging as civilians are less familiar with military jargon and responsibilities,” says Perez.
Offer honest feedback on how you believe they can more clearly and effectively present these transferable skills and qualifications to hiring managers.
Share relevant opportunities you come across in your network with veterans. Make introductions to colleagues and friends whenever appropriate, these can go a long way when a newly retired service member is looking to expand their professional network and learn about new industries and opportunities.
More formally, you can advocate for veteran hires at your workplace by educating your colleagues on the unique benefits they can bring to your company. Volunteer to represent your company at career fairs for veterans, explore on-job training, certification courses and opportunities for continuing education that you can offer veteran employees.
“Most veterans are highly-motivated and will be eager to pursue these opportunities if they are offered. Further, continuing education and certification programs not only help the veterans expand their skillset, they showcase your company’s commitment to their professional advancement,” says Perez.
If you want to volunteer or donate in other ways, he says a great place to start is the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website to see what VA-approved Veteran Service Organizations have a presence in your area and if they have any events or ongoing initiatives you could get involved with.
You can also reach out to your local VA advisory council. They’ll be able to provide you with a list of local organizations such as care facilities, hospitals, or homeless shelters in need of donations or volunteers.
Explore opportunities with the Wounded Warrior project
Then there’s the view from Drew Cheneler, an active duty member of the military and founder of SimpleMoneyLyfe.com. In an interview he said:
“The best thing you can do to give back to the military community is by either donating or volunteering for the Wounded Warrior Project. Apart from donating money, the best thing you can do is to get actively involved. The WWP offers numerous events in most states. This is a great place to connect with our warriors, hear their stories, and celebrate their successes both in and out of the military. Sometimes even sharing a story on your social media account is enough to get others involved.”
If not the WWP, he says another great option is the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “They receive no government funding, so they truly rely on donations. This is a great program that helps disabled veterans and their families through trying times.”
Support wear blue
Consider supporting wear blue, which was founded by Lisa Hallett. Her husband, CPT John Hallett, was killed in combat operations in 2009. Wear blue is a running community that unites and supports the military and their families, veterans, Gold Star families, and civilians through active remembrance and meaningful relationships. They motivate and empower individuals to healthier, more inspired living through six programs:
- The Saturday Run.
- Memorial Day.
- Race with Teamwear blue.
- Gold Star Race Program.
- Gold Star Youth Mentorship Program.
- For the Fighting Program.
Seamus Donahue is the son of U.S. Army Major Michael Donahue who was killed in 2014 in Afghanistan. As a Gold Star son, Seamus was a highly successful wear blue Gold Star Race Program participant. He spoke from his heart in an interview. “Memorial Day is not just a day off from work or a reason to grill out.”
Donahue has a few ways to honor the fallen on Memorial Day:
“Speak their name so they are not forgotten. Talk about them — the good, the bad, the jokes, the stuff that makes you smile and cry at the same time. It is important to make conversation with others about the ones who can’t celebrate that holiday with us.”
Then he says to remember the family.
“On this day, for the family who has lost a loved one, they can be sitting next to the grill having fun, yet the day likely consists of a lot of unmentioned mourning. Be sincere and intentionally reach out to them. Everyone experiences trauma and loss differently, where time truly does not heal all, it is nice to receive a friendly message checking in.”
Visit a military gravesite, if you can, so you can see the volume and weight of everyone who has died for our freedom. Pay your respects when you go.
Teach future generations that freedom is not free and that the cost of freedom is high. It comes with a lot of sacrifices. Not only of those who are killed in action but also the ones who have sacrificed time with family, instead, going into a foreign land to defend this country.
Lastly, he says, reach out to a gold star child.
“These are the sons and daughters who have lost a mom or dad. They are living a life without that parent, not doing things such as going fishing, camping, playing sports outside. Don’t be afraid to reach out and act as a mentor to those who lost a parent.”
Patronize veteran-friendly businesses
You can also support businesses that support veterans. Take for example Warfighter Hemp, founded by Lt. Col. (retired, USMC) Steve Danyluk to give veterans an alternative to addictive opioids for pain and anxiety relief. His company makes tinctures, capsules, bath bombs, lotions, teas, and oils.
Veterans are given a 50% discount upfront. The company also donates 50% of its proceeds to nonprofit organizations that support veteran independence, including Semper K9.
AnytownUSA.com, the marketplace that specializes in products made in America, offers a 10% discount for veterans every single day on all items, with no exceptions.
Live to Give
Live to Give is a bottled water brand that donates 50% of its net profits to charitable organizations that support military members, veterans, and their families, particularly those who’ve lost a loved one in the line of duty.
Co-founded by a former Green Beret who lost more than just his leg in the famous battle of Shok Valley, Live to Give knows the importance of giving back and remembering on this holiday.
Align with organizations
Veterans are a high-risk population for prostate cancer, with an incidence rate that is twice that of the general population. ZERO – The End of Prostate Cancer is leading the effort to bring the veteran community the resources, tools, and education needed to fight and prevent the disease.
Vehicles for Veterans
Through Vehicles for Veterans, you can donate your car to benefit a disabled veteran. You’ll do good and get a tax deduction. Plus, there’s no cost to you. The organization will pick up your car, whether it’s in running condition or not. They’ll handle the paperwork and issue an IRS tax receipt for you.
Infinite Hero Foundation
The Infinite Hero Foundation works to combat mental and physical health issues military heroes and their families face. You can volunteer, donate, or shop for the cause.
Veterans Advantage highlight some of the many organizations that are working on behalf of veterans and their families. So you can start here when looking for places to support.
Make Memorial Day special this year. Commit to stepping up and making a difference in the lives of military members and veterans.
Above, are a few ideas to get you started. Pick one or come up with a plan of your own. Either way, what matters most is that you’re thinking about the true meaning of Memorial Day.