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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Memorial Day Thoughts

The day is much more than the unofficial start of summer.

Typically in this space, I share my thoughts on marketing, branding, sales, and other business topics while sprinkling in a few personal parables from time to time. However, today, I’m going to do something different because it’s Memorial Day. For those of you who reside outside the United States, Memorial Day is a National Day of Remembrance for the brave men and women who died so that the rest of us could live free.

While I have two cousins who each served twenty years in the Marines, I don’t come from a military family. To my knowledge, I don’t have one relative – even a distant one – that died in battle while serving in the armed forces. So, while I understand what Memorial Day means, I don’t experience it as many who have lost family members in service to this great nation. This year, I wanted to change that as much as I could.

Over the weekend, I spent some time reading about Memorial Day and some traditions around the day. Originally called “Decoration Day,” the holiday was a tribute to what was then a new form of civic observance: a day set aside to commemorate those who perished in the American Civil War by placing flags and flowers on soldiers’ graves. As I read, a flood of patriotism washed over me as I really gave serious thought about the sacrifice so many have made so that I can live in freedom. Because I had the good fortune of being born in this parcel of land called the United States, I experience freedom of speech, religion, press, the right to assemble, and the ability to petition the government to remedy a grievance. Even further, I’ve been able to start two businesses, travel freely, and pursue whatever I define as happiness.

Yes, we have problems as a nation – big ones. Today, however, isn’t a day to point those out. Instead, today is a day to pause, reflect, and solemnly express gratitude to the soldiers who aren’t here any longer because they died protecting a way of life most others envy.

While reading this weekend, I found a beautiful poem by one of my favorite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Written in 1882, the poem pays tribute to Decoration Day before it became Memorial Day. However, the meaning is just as poignant today as it was over 150 years ago.

Decoration Day

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest

On this Field of the Grounded Arms,

Where foes no more molest,

Nor sentry’s shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,

And started to your feet

At the cannon’s sudden roar,

Or the drum’s redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death

No sound your slumber breaks;

Here is no fevered breath,

No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,

Untrampled lies the sod;

The shouts of battle cease,

It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!

The thoughts of men shall be

As sentinels to keep

Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green

We deck with fragrant flowers

Yours has the suffering been,

The memory shall be ours.

Before we fire up our grills, crack open a beer, and enjoy a break from work, I hope all of us pause – even for a moment – to reflect and give thanks for those who died so we may live.

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