As flags flew proudly yesterday to honor those who have died in service to our country, I felt proud. I was reminded, as I am every year, of the sacrifices our soldiers have made throughout the history of our great nation. But this year, I decided to find out why Memorial Day was started in the first place—and when I did, I decided to take a break from financial matters and tell you about it.
On May 5, 1868, three years after the official end of the American Civil War, the Grand Army of the Republic (called the GAR), decided that the nation needed to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. They picked May 30 as the day of “decoration,” because that’s when flowers would be in bloom all over the country.
Then-Congressman (and future President), James Garfield, spoke on the occasion at Arlington National Cemetery. He said, “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
Arlington is about 3 hours away from the Chesapeake Bay where I live. It is a grand, solemn place, where you feel that same pride of country I felt yesterday on Memorial Day—but in a much bigger way because the miles of stones represent so much death, so much sacrifice. It is only a minute fraction of the millions of men and women who have “accepted death,” so that our country can remain free.
We still have amazing freedoms in this country. We can start our own businesses, buy a home, and speak our mind. But there are those in other countries who do not, because they cannot by law (in the issue of free speech) or because they either don’t have the money to be able to enjoy the luxuries we do here in the United States or because their tax structures are so prohibitive that they can’t afford these privileges we take for granted.
Our Memorial Day the barbeques are over, summer has “officially” started, and we’re now back to work. But I know that I’m just a little more grateful to be able to do what I do precisely because of what the brave men and women we honored yesterday have done for our country.
Oh, and one more little history lesson. Those “Buddy Poppies” that the VFW (the Veterans of Foreign Wars) hand out every year on Memorial Day—they’re made by disabled veterans who are paid for their work. Money raised from Buddy Poppy sales provides financial assistance to state and national veterans’ rehabilitation service programs as well as the VFW Home for Children. The poppies were inspired by the WWI poem, “In Flanders Fields,” where Canadian Major John McCrae was inspired by the bright red poppies springing up amongst the graves in a burial ground where he had just buried his friend.
I talk a lot about how important it is to make sure the money you save is protected from loss so that you can enjoy the fruits of all your hard work when you need it. There are families who experience unimaginable loss—that of a son, a daughter, a husband, a mother—so I invite you to take a few of those saved dollars and support those who have lost something far more precious than money. Next time you can, buy one of the “Poppy Buddy,” flowers. It is a small sacrifice to honor those who have given so much.