MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it's time for our regular feature Words You'll Hear. That's where we try to understand some of the stories we'll be hearing more about in the coming days by parsing some of the words connected to the story. For today's words, we were thinking about Memorial Day. For a lot of us, it's the unofficial start of summer when the swimming pools open and the barbecue grills get dusted off. But Memorial Day is actually meant to be a day of reflection. And for those who serve in the military, for many veterans, for those who love them, even well-intentioned efforts to honor that military service can sometimes feel like a poke in the eye.
We were reminded of this because of a piece we saw in DiversityInc. DiversityInc is an online publication that offers news and tools about how to function in a diverse environment. The piece is titled "What It Means: Why It's Not 'Veterans Day' And How To Approach Your Veterans." We called Luke Visconti for this. He's the co-founder of DiversityInc. And maybe we should call this words you shouldn't hear on Memorial Day. And we are also reminded that Luke Visconti is a Navy veteran himself. And he joined us from his home office in Princeton.
Luke, thanks so much for speaking with us.
LUKE VISCONTI: Good to be here.
MARTIN: So go right there. What does Memorial Day mean and why isn't it Veterans Day? And why is it not the day to say thank you to a veteran?
VISCONTI: Well, Memorial Day started off as Decoration Day and a way to remember Civil War vets who had died in service. So it was decorating tombstones basically, and it evolved to be Memorial Day. And it's a day to remember people who have been killed while serving.
MARTIN: So why is it that - in fact, we often see this on social media that when people approach people and say, you know, thank you for your service - why do some veterans find that annoying and possibly even upsetting?
VISCONTI: Well, you know, I don't like it myself. I volunteered to serve. I flew helicopters in the Navy. It was a dangerous job. I had eight friends get killed over the years I was on active duty. And I enjoyed it immensely. It was very fulfilling. I'd do it again if I had the chance, but I don't need to be thanked for my service. And I think it's become kind of a platitude, toss-away thing to say. And it's a little annoying, frankly.
I know though that most people have nothing but the best intentions, so it's not like it's upsetting or anything. But on Memorial Day, you're - the veteran you're talking to may be going through a bit of melancholy remembering people who died over the years. So it's a good idea, when you're approaching a veteran, to say, it's Memorial Day, and I hope you're having a meaningful day, and I'm - you know, something to that effect where you're recognizing that the person may have friends who died in combat.
MARTIN: Are there any other things you, frankly, should not say? And, I mean, is it - do you recommend that people just simply not approach someone at all - I mean, if somebody knows that you're a veteran or if you're - perhaps if somebody's in uniform? I mean, be honest, would you really prefer that people say nothing?
VISCONTI: Frankly, yes, I mean, unless it's another veteran. I think veterans - and, you know, and I know who my friends who are veterans are, my colleagues, people I know who are veterans. And I would, if I were with them, say something.
MARTIN: Well, but for others who are hearing our conversation and are saying to themselves, you know, gee, I just want to be supportive, I just want to acknowledge that I realize this is a difficult job, you would say what?
VISCONTI: Have a meaningful day. And I'm thinking of you, and I'm thinking of our service people, especially those who died. And I think that that's a nice thing to say. I'm not sure that you need to share, but if you need to share, I think sometimes maybe just a pat on the back or an arm around the shoulder is really better than words. So you know, just be a friend.
MARTIN: That's Luke Visconti. He is the co-founder of DiversityInc. That's an online publication that offers news and resources to help people better function in a diverse environment. And he is a Navy veteran.
Luke Visconti, thank you so much for speaking with us today. And we do hope that you have a meaningful weekend.
VISCONTI: Thank you, Michel.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.