Campus Life

A Memorial Day Message

Staff and students at Texas A&M's Veteran Resource & Support Center remind us what Memorial Day is really about.
By Ashley Drake, Don & Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center, Division of Student Affairs May 22, 2020

You see it every year on Memorial Day — sales, barbecues, community events and parades. It’s a commercialized holiday that has become the unofficial kickoff to summer. Like many holidays, the true meaning has become hidden. As part of an institution deeply rooted in its proud military history, we want to bring that meaning back into focus as the holiday approaches.

John Vandewater, Left and William R Wilson, III pose in their military uniforms
(l-r) John Vandewater and William R Wilson, III

John Vandewater

Honoring those who have given their life in service to their country has been a long-standing tradition, originating just after the Civil War and held yearly on May 30 as Decoration Day, where community members would decorate soldiers’ graves with flowers and recite prayers. The name was eventually changed to Memorial Day, and the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 went into effect in 1971, officially establishing it as a federal holiday to be held on the last Monday in May.

Celebrations of Memorial Day have ranged throughout the years from the simple placement of flowers or flags on graves to community festivals and parades, and many families hold memorial celebrations for soldiers recently lost or for generations past.

For some, Memorial Day is a once-a-year, fleeting thought as the three-day weekend passes and their summer begins. But for our nation’s veterans, service members and their families, Memorial Day lasts all year long. Every day is a day spent without their fellow service member, family member or friend.

Memorial Day for John Vandewater, a Texas A&M student and retired U.S. Army veteran, is more than just one day a year.

“It is a daily reminder to all of us to honor and give thanks for all the men, women and families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we may continue to live in peace,” he said. “The ones we have lost stay with us.”

Vandewater said he lost a dear friend and former unit member, SSG William R. Wilson, III, for whom he named his son.

“Naming my son after him gives me a daily reminder of the blessings afforded by his sacrifice and the sacrifices of many like him,” Vandewater said.

Dependent student Brianna Bishop, whose father is serving, said her family doesn’t usually participate in Memorial Day festivities.

“This year, like most years, my family is not partaking in the barbecue cookouts or pool parties that many others enjoy on Memorial Day,” Bishop said. “Instead, we spend time together and remain grateful for those who allow us to enjoy our lives every day of the year in this country. Memorial Day is a dedication to these men and women who make the ultimate sacrifices for our country and a day when we should be thankful for them and their courage.”

We would like to encourage all to remember why we celebrate this day as they enjoy their holiday festivities, and to keep in mind the families of those who have lost a loved one in service to our country.

We also encourage everyone to participate in the national moment of remembrance that takes place each year on Memorial Day at 3 p.m. local time.

To all the families and service members who have lost a family member, brother or sister in arms, our thoughts are with you, not only on Memorial Day, but every day.

Media contact: Ashley Drake,

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