Growing up in the northeast, Memorial Day weekend represented for me a day of accompanying my parents and grandmothers to the cemeteries to remember and plant flowers around the headstones of loved ones. Weather prevailing, we would usher in summer with picnics as we counted the last days before school was out for the semester. I was recently reflecting how ironically, I don’t recall much being mentioned as a child about the true meaning of Memorial Day, a holiday to honor our fallen soldiers. And this is despite the fact that many of our loved ones, both living and deceased, have served in the armed forces, and despite the fact that my father was a U.S. History teacher early in his early career. From my perspective as a child, I did not process deaths as being related or unrelated to the military.
I am sure it is the same for many children across the country this Memorial Day as they unfortunately hear of more death than life nowadays. Simultaneously, they are learning about the preciousness of American freedom as restrictions on daily life and holiday traditions affect us all, despite COVID-19 affecting a comparatively small percentage of the population.
The Department of Veteran’s affairs fact sheet outlines the history behind Memorial Day, first celebrated as Decoration Day in 1868 to honor the 850,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War, out of a total national population of 31 million. According to history.com “The Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history and required the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries.” Despite Americans in states across the U.S. holding various types of celebrations to honor those lost while serving our country, Memorial Day did not become an official Federal Holiday until 1971.
Almost every person I meet who was raised in the United States has someone in their family who served or is serving in the armed forces. There is a good chance that you are working side by side with a Veteran in your construction workplace, either employed by your company directly or performing work on your project through a consultancy to a trade partner. Close to 8 million Americans served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm in the early 90’s, and we still have Vietnam veterans working in our industry. Fortunately, they made it home, although may have witnessed those who either did not or were maimed for life. Memorial Day may be more than just a day off to them, and they may need your encouragement, irrespective of whether you share an equal sentiment for the holiday.
The American workforce today is made up of people from all over the world with various knowledge and allegiance to our country and the freedoms for which others have fought. They may just see Memorial Day as a long weekend from work, and they may have a better chance of knowing a COVID 19 victim or survivor than a military veteran.
With the current political climate in America and us being in an election year, it is all the more important, for you as a leader within your firm to bring light to the purpose of Memorial Day. The five primary freedoms of America are the five outlined in the First Amendment are: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assembly, and the right to petition the government.
Your co-workers from socialist countries may know the value of this even more than most Americans, as they lived in places where those freedoms are curtailed by governmental coercion.
In May, 2016 the Business Journals wrote a piece providing 9 ways for business leaders to make Memorial Day more meaningful. I hope this will give you some suggestions that will work for you. If we look at history, we can see why observing Memorial Day is all the more important if America is going to stay The Land of the Free and the Brave.
If you served beside someone who lost their lives or lost someone in your family who died protecting our Freedoms: Thank you and I am sorry for your loss. May you and all of us celebrate this weekend in remembrance.
Happy Memorial Day,