Celebrating Memorial Day and America’s small businesses

Reasonable people disagree on the origins of what is now called Memorial Day. But most accept that the practice of decorating graves of Americans who died defending their country began in earnest by women of the South during and following the Civil War.

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, Commander of the Army of the Republic, was the first to make Memorial Day official with General Order No. 11, which stated in part that, “… the 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country …”

Since then, other than Congress making Memorial Day a national holiday and changing the date to the last Monday in May, America has honored its fallen heroes from all conflicts in pretty much the manner that General Logan anticipated with the language of his order, whereby “… posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit …”

When America issued its first call to arms, before it was a country, before there was a professional army, that call went to the militia, which was identified as, “all able-bodied men.” Calling themselves the “Minutemen,” because they could be ready to fight on a minute’s notice, they were primarily shopkeepers, craftsmen, farmers, etc. Today, we call them small business owners.

From as far away as Scotland, America’s Minutemen were impressive. Writing about the colonies’ quest for independence from England in his classic work, “The Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith predicted America would prevail thanks to its militia which, “… turns from its primary citizen character into a standing army.”

By the 20th century, state militias had become part of the National Guard. And by 1916, the National Defense Act created another layer of citizen soldiers, the Reserves.

Prior to the war with Spain in 1898, latter-day Minutemen served only on American soil. But ever since, including two World Wars and four major conflicts, America has deployed its citizen-soldiers around the world, right alongside regular armed forces. In the current two Middle East conflicts, Guard and Reserve members have accounted for one third of U.S. forces, as well as a comparable percentage of casualties.

Whenever they’ve been called, small business owners and employees have answered and demonstrated their commitment and courage. So on this Memorial Day, as we honor all who have paid the ultimate price in service to this country, let’s also remember the long tradition of America’s small business volunteers to serve faithfully, in harm’s way, on behalf of a grateful nation.

America would not exist, nor have endured, without the sacrifice of those who turned from their “primary citizen character into a standing army.”

Today, on my small business radio program, The Small Business Advocate Show, I celebrated Memorial Day, and all who paid the ultimate sacrifice, with my own thoughts, including a poem titled, “Freedom isn’t free.” I also talked with one of America’s great business leaders, Bob Dilenschneider, author of “Power and Influence.” Take a few minutes to listen to these podcasts and be sure to leave your thoughts.

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