Alive DayUpdated: May 26, 2020
An Alive Day is the anniversary of the date when a veteran almost lost their life in combat. Many of these veterans have also lost their fellow service members on their Alive Days, making the day one of celebration of their own survival, but also a day to remember and honor the sacrifice of those they served with. While Alive Days are often celebrated by service members, anyone who has been in a situation where they were close to death can have an Alive Day. An Alive Day can be the anniversary of surviving a severe injury, recovering from a serious illness, or any near-death event that had a major impact on an individual’s life.
For veterans who have severe injuries as a result of their service, many have to adjust to a life that is completely different from how things were before they were injured. For this reason, an Alive Day can be a bittersweet anniversary that separates a veteran’s pre-injury life from their life after the time they were injured.
How can Alive Days be acknowledged?
Individuals may acknowledge their Alive Day in different ways. Some may want to spend the day reflecting on their own, while others may choose to celebrate with a party surrounded by family and friends; some may not want to acknowledge the day at all. For people who are close to a veteran who has an Alive Day, they may choose to recognize the veteran on that day with a gift or a card, letting the veteran know that they are thinking of them and grateful to have them in their life.
While one does not have to be a service member to celebrate an Alive Day, members of the military have celebrated Alive Days at least since the Vietnam War, and possibly even longer. In the midst of a war zone, the likelihood of dying or being severely injured is higher, and service members share a close connection to those they served with in these dangerous areas. For these reasons, an Alive Day can be an opportunity for veterans to acknowledge and celebrate those connections with their fellow service members, as well as their safe return home from a war zone.
For friends or loved ones of veterans who have been injured in combat, it can be challenging to know how to best acknowledge that veteran’s Alive Day, or whether or not to acknowledge the day at all. If the Alive Day date is known, friends or family can let the veteran know that they are thinking of them that day through a card, phone call, or text.
Some veterans choose to celebrate the fact that they survived a serious injury on their Alive Day, similar to a birthday celebration. While the celebration of an Alive Day can be similar, the day may carry a heavier tone than a birthday, because it commemorates the day that a veteran was injured at war and survived, and may also be the anniversary of a fellow service member’s death. To help people outside of the military community understand what Alive Days are, and their significance, HBO aired a documentary in 2007 called Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq which featured several Alive Day stories from veterans of the Iraq war. The film features ten men and women who fought in Iraq and were severely injured. These veterans tell their stories and talk about the many ways their lives changed after their injuries occurred.
Alive Day Memories
Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq highlighted the experiences of several Iraq War veterans, and gave them an opportunity to talk about the circumstances that led to their Alive Days. Advances in battlefield medicine allowed many more soldiers to survive injuries during the Iraq War, leading to a higher number of Alive Days among soldiers. The service members interviewed for the documentary suffered severe injuries, and the film helped to shed light on how these veterans adapted to life after being injured. For many Iraq War veterans, commemorating their Alive Day can help them to acknowledge and process these life-altering injuries.
Helping a loved one dealing with loss
For veterans, an Alive Day may serve as a reminder of the loss of their old way of life, and the need to adapt to a life that may now include physical or invisible scars. While some choose to celebrate this day, others may still be processing the loss of not only their old way of life, but also the loss of their fellow service members, and may find the day filled with sadness and grief.
If you are the spouse or family member of a veteran who is dealing with grief and loss on their Alive Day, let them know that you are there for them, and encourage them to live their lives in their friend’s honor. Help them figure out ways to honor those they lost, while also enjoying life. For friends who have been injured or lost someone close to them on their Alive Day, let them know that you are thinking of them. Some veterans may deal with survivor’s guilt, if they survived an event that others did not. An Alive Day can be a reminder of this fact, and can be difficult to deal with.
Any event or injury that leads to a close brush with death can be life-changing. Recognizing such an event with an Alive Day can help veterans and their families come to terms with the event, and to acknowledge the difficulties of life after an injury. An Alive Day is a personal event, and should be acknowledged in any way that the veteran is most comfortable with. Friends and family members can help by being there to listen and support their veteran as much as possible.
While an Alive Day can be a difficult anniversary, ultimately it is a time to celebrate a veteran’s life and the fact that they survived.
Heather Maxey works at a non-profit that addresses military ineligibility. She is an Army spouse, and met her husband while working as a Health Educator at Fort Bragg.
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