Worth Remembering on Memorial Day
Updated: Jan 5
Four years ago, I made the decision to step out of the corporate world and work directly with start-up brands on a consulting basis. It was a purposeful decision, one that allowed me to connect more closely with the customer in an elemental way, to stoke my passion for the business. This decision gave me the opportunity to work with several inspiring entrepreneurs who looked at retail and marketing with fresh eyes and innovative ideas. As part of this journey, I started to write, my first article being one about Memorial Day, with no foreshadowing of the direction my journey would take me in.
A few days ago, I had the privilege of attending a change of command ceremony for a friend of ours. Our families have become close over the last couple of years and through their journey, I’ve seen the sacrifices made by our military families. This particular event captured not only a change of command, but also the retirement of someone who has served his entire career in the military, as well as a remembrance of two U.S. Navy pilots who tragically lost their lives in a recent accident. While the event itself was a celebration filled with the pomp and circumstance of a time-honored tradition, it was a stark reminder of what Memorial Day truly means.
When I originally wrote this post in 2014, I had respect for our military, its traditions, and place in our history. But over the last couple of years, I think I have gained a deeper appreciation for the role our military plays and the sense of purpose that motivates those individuals and families who serve our country. As I sat in the audience that day, unaware that this post would show up in my history, it deepened my debt of gratitude for those who serve and who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend and protect us. May their sacrifice never be in vain.
(originally published May 26, 2014)
It is sometimes easy to forget that Memorial Day isn’t about the start of summer, a three-day weekend, and deep discounts across retail channels; it is in fact a day of remembrance. Unlike Veterans Day, which celebrates all military personnel, Memorial Day is set aside to remember the fallen, those who have given their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have.
Some facts worth remembering about Memorial Day:
The holiday was originally called “Decoration Day”. It’s roots date back to the Civil War era when James Redpath encouraged schools in South Carolina that served freed slaves to gather flowers and “decorate” the graves of the union soldiers who had fought for their freedom.
Memorial Day continued to divide us. 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, until WWI and WWII when we were reminded of its true purpose. Veterans groups then successfully lobbied for the establishment of a day of remembrance to honor the fallen, which was set for May 30.
Memorial Day didn’t become an official holiday until 1968. Memorial Day wasn’t officially a holiday until 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.
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.”
The origin of 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.
A National 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.”
“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt