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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

What Is Worth Remembering on Memorial Day

A day of reflection and remembrance.

Years ago, I wrote my first blog post, and found myself focusing on the true meaning of Memorial Day. Specifically, why it deserved to be more than just a day of BBQs, a day at the beach, and retail sales events. It was at a time when I was growing a bit tired of drinking the Kool-Aid only to have it turn bitter, frustrated by those leaders who say the right things but do the wrong ones, and concerned with an industry that saw lessening issue with jettisoning their long term associates. I was concerned that in the midst of this storm, I was placing my success at work ahead of truly connecting with those I love the most.

I stepped away, and for the first time I saw Memorial Day not through the filter of a retailer, but instead through the perspective of a human, thankful for the freedoms that we share as a result of those who have sacrificed. As I started my journey towards understanding the value of purpose, my respect those who serve and have served, who have put themselves in harms way, who have protected the freedoms that we often take for granted, deepened. I quickly realized that any sacrifices I have ever made or hardships I have faced, pale in comparison. And for those who make the ultimate sacrifice, no remembrance will ever be enough.

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Some facts worth remembering about Memorial Day:

What is the Difference between “Memorial Day” and “Veterans Day”? Confused as to the difference? Veterans Day is meant to honor anyone who has served in the United States military. It started as the commemoration of the end of World War I. Memorial Day is a far more somber holiday as it is the time to reflect upon those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country.

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Organically started. The earliest marking of the eventual Memorial Day tradition of honoring the fallen can be traced back to 1864, when women from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania put flowers on the graves of those who died during the Battle of Gettysburg. The following year, women decorated the graves of those soldiers buried in a Vicksburg, Mississippi cemetery, and the tradition of honoring the fallen continued to build from that point onward.

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Decoration Day. The first mention of “Decoration Day” was back in May, 1865, when James Redpath encouraged schools in South Carolina that served freed slaves to gather flowers and “decorate” the graves of union soldiers who had fought for their freedom. According to the Post & Courier, "2,800 black school children marched by their graves, softly singing 'John Brown's Body.' Soon, their voices would give way to the sermons of preachers, then prayer and later picnics."

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Divided, at First. The northern and southern states actually celebrated this holiday at different times and in different ways and the division almost caused the holiday to disappear. In April 1866, women from Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers. It really wasn’t until WWI and WWII when we were reminded of its true purpose.

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According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. "Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans -- the Grand Army of the Republic -- established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.” General Logan was in Carbondale, Illinois, where he delivered the principal address after 2119 Civil War veterans marched through town in memory of the fallen.

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The Official Holiday. Memorial Day didn’t become an official holiday until 1968 when Lyndon Johnson signed the Uniform Monday Holiday Law. Several holidays were then recognized including Memorial Day; however the date was permanently set as the last Monday in May rather than May 30. Senator Daniel Inouye, himself a veteran, introduced a bill every year from 1989 until his death trying to restore Memorial Day to May 30, so that the three day weekend wouldn’t distract from the holiday’s real purpose.

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A French Tattoo? Several of our traditions actually come from outside of the United States. Union General Daniel Butterfield didn’t like the tradition of firing rifle volleys at the end of burials and wanted something more somber. It is believed that he adapted the song ‘Taps’ from the French bugle song “Tattoo” which was played during “lights out.”

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The Red Poppy. The red “buddy poppy”, the official flower of remembrance, actually was borrowed from a poem written by Lt. Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army during WWII. He wrote the poem “In Flanders Field” which referenced “the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row” which inspired Moina Michael, an American working in Scotland to start selling poppies to raise money for veterans. Anna Guerin of France heard about the effort and partnered with her to sell the poppies in other countries and as demand grew, the Veterans of Foreign Wars established the poppy as the official memorial flower and in 1924 a factory was built in Pittsburgh to manufacture the “Buddy Poppy”, the red flower that we know today.

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Moment of Remembrance. President Clinton in 2000 established 3pm on Memorial Day as the “National Moment of Remembrance”. It is a moment when broadcast media pauses to play taps and when all are encouraged to take a moment to remember the “true purpose and sacrifices that should be honored on Memorial Day.”

My passion for the industry has been rekindled, built on the foundation that doing good while doing well it not just a good tagline, but a good way of conducting ourselves. Yes, we have family visiting us for Memorial Day, the grill is being well used, and shopping is part of the itinerary. But today, each of us in our way will take the time to properly reflect, and thank those who fought and died in defense of all that we believe in, and every freedom that we have earned as a nation.

#MemorialDay #Holiday #Summer #Military #Retail

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