Gold Star families often resent the fact that remembrance is frequently overshadowed by fun on Memorial Day. Although it is a federal holiday designed as a day to honor all service members who have honorably served and died in an active duty status, it is also a federal holiday that has evolved to an unofficial-start-of-summer event.

Families of the fallen aren’t opposed to enjoying all that the weekend has to offer, but they take offense that dedicated time to pay tribute to the fallen isn’t generally a part of the weekend’s plans. While decorating the backyard cook-out with red, white and blue party paraphernalia sets a patriotic tone, families yearn to see more public remembrance and support. “We lost our only son, Mark,” said Gold Star parents Mark and Nancy Stets. “It means a lot to us to attend a Memorial Day ceremony where the fallen are honored and see a large crowd. We don’t want our son’s sacrifice to be forgotten.”

This Memorial Day is a great time to start anew and make it more meaningful, not only for yourself and your family, but also for the tens of thousands of surviving military family members who live with the sacrifices made by their loved ones.

Here are five good ways to display support for these families of the fallen this holiday weekend:

  1. Attend a local Memorial Day ceremony. Most communities hold remembrance ceremonies and often pay special tribute to their own deceased service members. Local Gold Star families will be there and it would mean the world to them to see friends and strangers there in support, too.
  2. Go to a Memorial Day parade. Maybe remembrance ceremonies aren’t your thing. If that’s the case, check out a nearby Memorial Day parade. If you’ve never been to one, it’s an experience you’ll benefit from as you’ll see local patriotism in action. Plus, parades are a good way for kids to learn about Memorial Day.
  3. Support a run for the fallen. If you’re more action-focused, consider running in honor of a fallen service member. Races for the fallen vary in size and distance, and there’s sure to be one in your geographic area. Not a runner? Show your support as a spectator and cheer the runners on.
  4. Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day. If you’re staying around the house this year, join the growing number of organizations, municipalities, and citizens who will pause at 3 p.m. and hold a minute of silence to remember the fallen on Memorial Day. What if you’re cooking out on Saturday or Sunday? Start a new tradition among your family and friends and offer a toast to the fallen.
  5. Fly your flag. A good show of support is to fly the American flag, particularly on important days of meaning. Don’t have a flag? Consider buying a handful of small American flags and put one at the end of your driveway or near your mailbox if it sits near the curb. Take the extra small flags you bought and ask your neighbors if they’d like to show support for the fallen, too. Live in an apartment, condo or townhouse? Put a flag in a window or on your door.

Publicly showing support for Gold Star families and their fallen loved ones has a personal benefit, too. It’ll connect you to the greater purpose found in military service, one that families of the fallen understand all too well — the personal cost of our freedom and rights.

Joanne Steen is the author of “WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU: A Survival Guide for Gold Star Parents and Those Who Support Them” and coauthor of “Military Widow: A Survival Guide.”

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