If you’ve had a loved one die in military service, you especially understand the importance of Memorial Day, which honors the fallen men and women who served the United States. Whether you’ve lost a loved one or not, doing something to recognize the sacrifices of our fallen heroes this year can be a wonderful way to say thank you. We’ve rounded up a list of 50 ways you can honor the true spirit of Memorial Day.
1. Volunteer to Raise & Lower Cemetery Flags …
It may seem like a simple thing, but reaching out to your local cemetery, especially a veterans cemetery, can make a big difference, particularly in rural areas where there may be fewer family members of the men and women buried there living nearby and available to volunteer.
2. … Or to Help Maintain Cemetery Grounds
The same goes for cemetery maintenance. Helping to maintain the final resting place of fallen troops by volunteering to prune trees, mend cemetery flags, repair cemetery benches or pull weeds can make a big difference to visiting family members.
3. … Or to Greet Cemetery Visitors
The Department of Veterans Affairs suggests one way to make a difference this Memorial Day is to volunteer to greet families at special services at veterans cemeteries. Your thanks for their sacrifice can go a long way.
4. … Or to Play Taps
If you’re a bugler, you can also volunteer to play taps live for Memorial Day or even at veterans’ funerals throughout the year. Congress passed a law in 2000 to allow a recorded version of taps to be played at these funerals since there are more veterans funerals than buglers the military can provide. But many families prefer a live bugler, so there is still significant demand for your talents.
5. … Or to Clean Up a Grave Site
You’ve seen them — the untended graves of fallen veterans who have no family remaining. You can volunteer to keep these grave sites free of weeds and the headstones cleaned of dirt and debris. You can also volunteer to …
6. Place Flowers & Flags on Graves
Sure, there are veterans groups and others who do this, but you can always help them or make this simple gesture on your own.
7. Adopt a Grave Site
You can also make maintenance of a specific grave site official through the Adopt a Grave program. Volunteers take care of the graves of the fallen soldiers, keeping them debris-free and decorating them with flowers. Check with your local cemetery to see if they support the program.
8. Share Your Story
Whether it’s a post on social media, a letter to the editor of your local newspaper or a piece you wish to publish in a magazine or on a website, sharing your personal story of loss and remembrance is a wonderful way to memorialize your fallen veteran.
9. Share a Veteran’s Story
Likewise, telling another person’s story can be a wonderful way to recognize their sacrifice. Did your grandfather die in combat? A friend? A member of your community? Telling their story, especially when you can include photographs, can be a lovely reminder of what Memorial Day is all about.
10. Make a Recording for NPR’s StoryCorps
If your story is especially compelling, you may want to consider recording it. NPR’s StoryCorps stories are stored in the Library of Congress. You can learn more about StoryCorps here.
11. Join the Memorial Day Facebook Page
You can share stories and photos of your fallen hero here, plus see the posts of other military family members.
12. Donate Your Time …
There are literally dozens of volunteer opportunities to help veterans and military families. Check your local organizations today to see what you can do in your community.
13. … Or Your Money
The same goes for monetary donations. There are many worthy organizations. As you research which is right for you, you may come across some organizations which which you are unfamiliar. The site Charity Navigator provides information on how much of your donation will benefit that organization’s particular cause, rather than administrative costs, so you can be sure your money is making an impact.
14. … Or Your Blood
Your donation could be the difference in a family remembering their service member on Memorial Day, or thanking them personally on Veterans Day.
15. Make a Memorial Donation
If you have a fallen loved one, you can make your donation in their name.
16. Help a Surviving Family
If you’d like to help by providing support for families of the fallen, both the USO and the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors offer financial and emotional support to bereaved spouses and children of troops who have died serving their country.
17. Send Flowers
If you live in the New York metro area, you may want to consider sending a thank-you bouquet through the National Memorial Day Foundation, which will be placed at the New York City war memorials.
18. Help Out Living Service Members
Donating time or resources to a veterans organization, like the Wounded Warrior Project, can make a huge difference in the lives of surviving service members wounded during duty.
19. Write a Letter to an Active Duty Service Member
Writing letters to active duty military members is a time-honored tradition. It can mean a lot to the men and women far from their homes and families. There are several resources online to help you get your letter to service member.
20. Invite a Service Member Over for Your Cookout
Want to thank a service member in person? Why not have him or her over for your Memorial Day barbecue?
21. Observe a Moment of Silence
There’s an official National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, but you can take a moment from your weekend activities whenever the time is right for you to reflect on the sacrifices of our fallen heroes.
22. Say a Prayer
If you’re religious, take time to say thanks for our fallen veterans.
23. Carry the Load
The Dallas Memorial March by “Carry the Load” is the organization’s flagship event, occurring over two days and honoring service members and their families for the sacrifices they make. Participants join in the Memorial March at any time during the two days and walk, even for just a few minutes.
24. Fly Your Flag – But Do So Properly
Proper flag etiquette prescribes that the Stars and Stripes be raised at half staff from sunrise until noon on Memorial Day, and then raised to full staff for the rest of the day.
25. Watch the National Memorial Day Concert …
This annual concert will be televised live on PBS from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Sunday, May 28 at 8 p.m. EDT.
26. … Or Find a Concert Near You
Lots of cities and towns have their own musical remembrance for Memorial Day. Check your local listings to find what’s available in your area.
27. Join the Parade
Attend the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., or find a local parade nearer to you.
28. Join the Rolling Thunder ‘Ride For Freedom’
If you love motorcycles, you may want to consider joining this giant biker brigade honoring our fallen veterans.
29. Attend a Memorial Day Service …
Check your local listings for services in your area.
30. … Or the National Service at Flanders Field
If you live in the D.C. metro area, you may wish to attend the national Memorial Day service.
31. … Or a Memorial Day Service Overseas
If you’re overseas, you don’t have to skip honoring our fallen veterans. There are dozens of American cemeteries around the world where fallen military members have been laid to rest. Many of these have Memorial Day services that are free and open to the public.
32. Buy a Buddy Poppy
Call your nearest Veterans of Foreign Wars post to find out where to purchase their handmade poppies. Your purchase provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home For Children.
33. Make a Patriotic Playlist
Don’t overlook your Memorial Day soundtrack. Here are several ideas to get you started:
- America the Beautiful
- Anchors Aweigh
- The Army Goes Rolling Along
- Battle Hymn of the Republic
- Columbia the Gem of the Ocean
- Fanfare for the Common Man
- God Bless America
- Hail Columbia
- Library of Congress March
- Marines’ Hymn
34. Watch a Military Movie
Why not watch a movie this Memorial Day that symbolizes exactly what the day is about — duty, sacrifice and grief. There are lots of recommendation lists online, but some of our favorites include Hamburger Hill, Saving Private Ryan, Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.
35. Make Some Red, White & Blue Food
Just because you’re honoring the dead doesn’t mean you can’t have some tasty food as well. Check out Foodie Crush’s roundup of 50 patriotic treats that will be sure to make your guests remember the day’s focus.
36. Buy American
Do your part to support American businesses (many small businesses are owned by veterans) and buy American, especially on Memorial Day.
37. Get Active in Local Politics
Honoring the men and women who died for this country is wonderful, but civic responsibility helps ensure their sacrifice wasn’t in vain. Get involved in your local city or town council by running for office or attending open meetings. But don’t stop there. Do the same at the county or parish and even state levels.
38. Read About the History of Memorial Day
Sure, you know it’s about honoring our fallen veterans, but do you know the history of Memorial Day?
39. Read Aloud Logan’s General Order No. 11
If you want to make your Memorial Day moment of silence especially poignant, try reading the original order to recognize the dead afterward.
40. Teach Your Children About the Meaning of Memorial Day
Reminding your children of what the day is all about can help them appreciate the sacrifices made by our fallen veterans.
41. Read Memorial Day Speeches, Poems & More …
There are some amazing words written about our fallen heroes. If you want a few somber moments to reflect on their sacrifice, some of these pieces can help you do just that.
42. … Or Write Your Own
If you have any articles, essays, lyrics, poems, prayers or speeches relating to Memorial Day, consider donating a copy to be posted on usmemorialday.org.
43. Visit a National Military Park
Is there a historic battle site near you? Consider making a day trip to learn more about the battle and the sacrifices made there.
44. Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
If you’re near Washington, D.C., you could consider visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
45. Visit the Alamo
The site of one of the most famous battles on American soil is a true testament to sacrifice.
46. Visit Pearl Harbor
If you’re in Hawaii, pay your respects at the Pearl Harbor Memorial.
47. Visit Military Memorials in Washington, D.C.
A day at these somber sites is a wonderful way to reflect on the sacrifices of our fallen veterans.
48. Visit the Flight 93 Memorial
The passengers on Flight 93 weren’t members of the military, but these ordinary citizens and crew members joined together in an extraordinary act of selflessness, giving their lives for their country and saving potentially thousands of others on Sept. 11. If you’re near the site in Pennsylvania, it can be a wonderful way to reflect on self-sacrifice for the greater good.
49. Visit Nearby Historical Markers
If you can’t make it to a battleground, monument or other historic site, consider a simple road trip to read some of the historical markers in your area. Many of them are about battles lost and won right here on American soil.
50. Join the Military
If service to your country is important to you, consider enlisting in one of the four main branches of the military, in the Coast Guard or joining the Army National Guard.