April and May are busy months for military families. May (also known as Military Appreciation Month) encompasses Armed Forces Day (May 16), Memorial Day (May 25), and Military Spouse Appreciation Day (May 8), and in 1986, April was designated as the Month of the Military Child.
Many years ago, when I had been writing my column for only about nine months, my editor sent me an e-mail one day in May that basically read, “Um, I think you missed Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Probably should write a column about that.” At the time, I was one of the only military spouses writing publicly about our lifestyle. It was a major oversight to not cover Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Yet even after being raised in the military, then marrying into it, I wasn’t aware that there was a Military Spouse Appreciation Day (or a Month of the Military Child and Military Appreciation Month, for that matter). Maybe that’s because these holidays hadn’t made it to Hallmark’s shelves yet.
I wrote my column about Military Spouse Appreciation Day as the editor had suggested, and I began it, perhaps too cynically, by noting that no one, not even military families, seems to notice these days any more than they notice National Train Day or National Ice Cream Day. (No offense to these days.)
I have since changed my view, partly because the country has taken more notice due to the current interest in military families and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People do recognize Military Appreciation Month in particular, even if they don’t necessarily remember Military Spouse Appreciation Day or the Month of the Military Child. To be honest, we have probably overloaded the public with too many occasions, kind of like having all your relatives celebrating birthdays in the same month. Even I would rather pay attention only to the all-encompassing Military Appreciation Month than the individual titles for spouses and children, with the exception being Memorial Day, which still, and always, deserves its own separate day.
I have also changed my cynical view about people’s lack of interest in Military Appreciation Month because I’m not sure I want Military Spouse Appreciation Day to go the way of other notable days, days that have been overshadowed by mattress sales (nothing is quite as offensive as a Memorial Day “Mattress Blow Out Sale”), discounts at the mall, and the obligation to buy gifts and cards.
For now at least, Military Appreciation Month has not been swallowed up by the commercial world. It is still what important days should be: a reminder to stop, reflect and be mindful. The Month of the Military Child and Military Appreciation Month serve to keep military family issues in the public arena, if only because the 24-hour cable news media use such dates as a springboard for deciding what topics to cover. My public speaking agenda, for instance, increases during May.
My only concern is that as more troops return home from overseas and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end, interest in military families might wane again. Indeed, people feel most connected to dates that cause a personal, emotional reaction, which is why Dec. 7 is (sadly) easily forgotten by today’s youth as a day of remembrance for the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, but Sept. 11 still brings a chill, the mere presence of the date coloring people’s emotions and thoughts throughout the day. (Who can date a check on Sept. 11 and not stop and think?)
Of course, several generations from now, even the date “September 11th” won’t have the same emotional impact that it does for people who were alive in 2001. This is the natural course of history; days and events lose their magnitude as the majority of people have no personal connection to it anymore. We rely on the remaining survivors, museums, historians and meaningful ceremonies to keep it alive in people’s minds.
For now, most everyone feels connected to the issues of military families because service members are at the forefront of a hot national news topic. Someday, however, when fewer reservists are activated and the military returns to its usual tempo, fewer people will know someone who is serving “over there.” That’s when dates for military appreciation will become most important, because that is when they might be easily forgotten.
Except that, much like mothers on Mother’s Day, military families don’t necessarily crave attention. They don’t need cards or flowers, and certainly not mattress sales. They just want you to care. And that’s something we all can do every day.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Her new book, “I’m Just Saying …”, is available wherever books are sold. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.