Last weekend, as I was observing the flags at half-mast, I began reflecting on Memorial Day and what represents to our country and to my personal history. When I asked my 19 year-old daughter why the flags were at half mast, all I got back was a puzzled look. I don’t believe this is unique in her case or with a lot of Americans, young or old.
In the instant “hype now” days of either a politician doing something that others disagree with (which seems to be everything) to all the entertainment options (baseball, musicians, etc.) and general busy state of our lives (active kids, social options, etc.), there seems to be little time or consideration given to reflection. As my friend Don tells me, history is a crystal ball into the future! If not a forecast of things to come, it at least provides an understanding of where not to go.
Memorial Day was initiated at the end of the Civil War when Americans across our reunited nation honored the dead from that great conflict. Did you know that 1 in 4 who left home to fight in that war never returned. 2.5% of our total population died during the Civil War. It was these startling facts that drove people to honor those who paid the biggest sacrifice for our young nation.
That tradition of honoring the fallen eventually took on the title of Decoration Day. Decoration Day was celebrated each year on May 30th with the placement of flowers and flags on veteran’s graves. In 1971, it became Memorial Day – a legal federal holiday on the last Monday in May.
As I’ve posted previously, my personal family history is rich in WW II service with over 50% of my immediate aunts and uncles having served. These days, only one of my uncles is still with us. Even at 92, he is a great orator of family history and continues to share stories.
My generation of family service includes two of my brothers who served during the Vietnam War. I’m proud of them both and grateful that they returned to us. My family is lucky in that none of my relatives actually died during their service time – which I know isn’t case with many other families. Service and sacrifice go hand in hand – beginning with the Revolutionary War and the birth of our nation.
Over the years, a number of family and friends have been buried in one of the 135 National Cemeteries maintained by the VA for veterans and family members. These locations are true memorials to those who served. From the pristine condition of the grounds and the symmetrical monuments – to the feeling you get when they present the gun salute at the end of the burial, they reflect high honor and respect.
The history of National Cemeteries dates back to the middle of the Civil War when they first started becoming sites for the massive deaths that were occurring. Visiting one of these cemeteries can be quite an experience. I remember being at Arlington, in awe of the 400,000+ burial locations, and seeing President Kennedy’s grave (I remember watching his burial in 4th grade on TV – in black & white of course). We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then wandered past the graves themselves. It was very moving.
You don’t need to go to Washington DC to pay respect to service and sacrifice. Another powerful experience of mine is visiting our own National Cemetery here in St. Louis, Jefferson Barracks. It is also a sight to see – especially on Memorial Day weekend after our local Boy Scouts have placed flags on each of the nearly 200,000 graves.
It’s not uncommon these days for people to express their pride and support for our service men and women, both verbally and in their actions. This was not always the case. I remember back to the Vietnam War and the protests and disrespect our troops faced on their return from that conflict.
It is important for all of us to remember that our service people don’t start wars; they just sacrifice and risk their lives for the decisions of our country. They do that out of love and loyalty to all of us as Americans.
I understand that my ability to start a business, the flexibility in how we run it and the risk I accept, has been made possible by those people in the past that provided this freedom to me – and by those today and in the future who continue to preserve that freedom. For that, and much more, I am grateful to them.
So next year when you see the flags at half mast on Memorial Day weekend, please use it as a reminder of those individuals who have sacrificed for you – and how fortunate we are to live in such a great nation.
Wes Haubein is the President of HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile asset inventory management and warehouse solutions. He writes regularly about management, solution integration and technology.