The problem with holidays like Memorial Day is the intangibility of the whole thing. While Occupy Wall Street inveighs against the 1 percent, the 1 percent most of us forget about are the Americans serving in our wars. Many people don't know anyone currently in the military, and even fewer know actual war veterans or men and women who have died in combat, the people Memorial Day was created to recognize following the bloodshed of the Civil War. Without ever meeting or talking to veterans about their experiences, honoring them on days like tomorrow or Veterans Day rings hollow. We're told that giving thanks to soldiers is the right thing to do, and we think we glean the horrors of war from films like Saving Private Ryan. But what do we really know about the ex-soldier's plight? What right do we even have pretending to empathize with them on Memorial Day with our yellow ribbons and our meager offers of thanks?
As you gear up for the long weekend, remember that Memorial Day is about more than hot dogs, beer, and permission to wear white shoes for the next three months. The holiday was created as a day to honor American troops who died in battle, but the fate of those who make it home safely can be truly grim. According to a study by the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, on any given night in 2011 more than 67,000 veterans slept on the streets, in a shelter, or in transitional housing. While veterans account for only 11 percent of the total U.S. adult population, one in four homeless people is a veteran. And while that may seem out of hand, the number of homeless veterans is actually two-thirds lower than just a few years ago.