All hyper in the head…

How To
Honor The War Dead

What exactly does this mean, to honor the dead? How do I do that–exactly?

It’s a mysterious act, this honoring the dead. Do you:

  1. Right hand over the heart
  2. Intone these words: [solemn blah, solemn blah, solemn blah]
  3. Look silently into the sky for 31 seconds

Have you seen an FAQ about how to honor the dead, or a nifty blog in the HowTo sphere? A YouTube step-by-step video?

I don’t think so (but if you have one, put it in the comments section here!).

Memorial Day is to remember and honor the war dead–a day of great opportunity. In addition to the main purpose of Memorial Day (see below), it’s a day that gives us a chance to cultivate our own personal sense of what “honoring the dead” means to each of us.

So, please take a minute here and use the comments section below to write down your description of HOW you honor the war dead.

I’ll start by adding my own, but first…

Memorial Day Overview

Wikipedia Entry:

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who died while in the military service. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War (it is celebrated near the day of reunification after the Civil War), it was expanded after World War I to include American casualties of any war or military action.

Here’s a snippet from the official, first Memorial Day Order by General John A. Logan, 1868.

Memorial Day has the purpose:

“of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines… What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe?”

— General John A. Logan, General Order No. 11, Headquarters, Grand Army of the Republic, Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

For those of you who regularly attend Memorial Day ceremonies, I’m sure you’ve heard many speeches, both stirring and dull, about the history of Memorial Day. There is usually a formal ceremony of placing flowers to commemorate fallen soldiers–comrades, family members, neighbors, strangers. Those rituals are public and can be cathartic, and they symbolize the purpose of Memorial Day.

I’d like to invite you to translate that into a personal tradition and to share some words about that here.

How do you personally honor the war dead?


  1. hyperhead says:

    My father prompted me to attend public Memorial Day ceremonies. I like going alone most of all, but I sometimes take youngsters along in the hope my Dad’s tradition will pass along. I place a lot of ritual value in the speaking of the names of the dead. Whenever someone mentions the name of a dead soldier, I repeat it out loud if possible or in my head if it’s during a speech. I just like the idea that these names echo in the air as a symbol my personal regard and as a marker of what this vague phrase “honoring the dead” means to me.

    James Paul Teasley.

    There. I just said that out loud again, and it moves me. That’s how the “kind and fraternal feeling” lives in me. That’s how I “cherish tenderly the memory.” My favorite Memorial Day ceremonies are at the official Veterans Cemeteries–not because of the higher degree of pomp and circumstance, but because of the graves. Before and after the ceremonies, I like to walk the grounds, cleaning up a tombstone here and there, and saying some names out loud. I walk the full perimeter, which in LA, for example, takes a while, but it gives me time for quiet meditation, which as I focus my attention on the lives marked by these graves, feels like “honoring the dead” to me.

    I also like the smaller, local ceremonies because of the sense of community and bonding I feel seeing familiar faces all turned toward the speakers. I like the sad sniffle here and there, a furtive wiping of a tear, and the parading of the “higher angels of our nature.”

    One more thing… my personal version of Memorial Day isn’t limited to dead soldiers–those who have served in the armed forces. It is important to me to silently include all the innocent deaths that happen in the vicinity of war.

  2. Jeannie Yacker says:

    How do I honor the dead?
    What I do, when I meet someone, anywhere with a vet hat on, I talk to them. Smile to them and for them. Then, I thank them. Sincerely with all my heart. At this point, not only do they smile, they thank me with grace and honor.
    I always keep this to myself, but once I told my father. And he said to me, ” Wow, really, I don’t think I’ve ever done that.” He was a Marine and is now 80 years old.

    Saying Thank You, is the biggest honor.