Let’s admit it. For most kids, Memorial Day means the pools are open and the end of school is near. At most, watching TV, they may catch a glimpse of the president or vice president placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, or notice that there are more old war movies on. Though this year, even the History Channel seems more focused on Indiana Jones.
So how does a parent observe this holiday in a meaningful way? In our book, How to Raise an American, Chriss Winston and I came up with some practical suggestions. One D.C. resident we know takes his children to the Vietnam Memorial early in the morning. It has become a family tradition, and as his children grow, so does their understanding of this holiday.
Almost every community has a ceremony at the local memorial, and many have parades. Take part in these activities with the kids. In Roxbury, Conn., a small town where I have a home, the Memorial Day parade stops at two of the town’s cemeteries. In the past, the names of every soldier from Roxbury who has died in the service of his country since the Revolutionary War have been read aloud.
Or, invite a veteran over and ask him to talk about his experiences. Older kids –from junior high up — can even record such memories and submit their interviews to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
Do something that supports a soldier on active duty. Send a letter or a care package. Make a donation to a soldiers’ fund. Visit Soldiers’ Angels, which has a variety of suggestions for you and the kids, including sending letters, packages, and phone cards to the troops, and ‘blankets of hope’ to the wounded.
There are lots of craft activities for younger kids that require no more than a computer and printer. They can print out and color flags of the Army, Air Force, Marines, and the Navy. They can print out God Bless America bookmarks, stationery and a symbol for their webpage if they would like to design one honoring our soldiers. You can also find a Medal of Honor coloring book., or a Silver or Bronze Star. Ask them what act of bravery they think would deserve such a medal.
In fact, just talking may be the most important thing patriotic parents can do. In turn, kids may ask the toughest question of all: “But is America really worth dying for?” Though you and I may believe the answer is yes, explaining why is never easy. Certainly we have to acknowledge that we all feel tremendous pain when we hear of a soldier dying. Let them share their feelings, no matter how cynical they may sound. And don’t be startled or dismayed if they find this a very, very frightening question to consider. Who doesn’t?
At the end of the movie Saving Private Ryan, the main character comes to the realization that many soldiers have died to save him, and he is confused by their sacrifice. As Captain Miller, the platoon leader, lies dying, he challenges Ryan to “Earn it.” On Memorial Day it is important to tell our children that we honor the fallen of the past in the best way we can, by living responsibly, loving our country, and being grateful that there are men and women willing to make the greatest sacrifice to protect us and our freedoms.
– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness – and Liberalism – to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.