Reasonable people disagree on the origins of Memorial Day. But most accept that the practice of decorating graves of Americans who died in military service began in earnest during the Civil War.
On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, Commander of the Army of the Republic, made Memorial Day official with General Order No. 11, which stated in part, “… 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 …” And other than Congress making Memorial Day a national holiday and affixing it to the last Monday in May, America has since honored its fallen heroes from all conflicts pretty much as General Logan ordered.
When America issued its first call to arms – before it had 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 in “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 the National Guard. And in 1916, the National Defense Act created 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, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq twice, and Afghanistan – America has deployed citizen-soldiers alongside regular forces, around the world. Indeed, in Iraq and Afghanistan, Guard and Reserve members have accounted for one-third of U.S. forces, as well as a comparable percentage of casualties.
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, including employees, who served honorably and courageously on behalf of a grateful nation.
It’s hard enough leaving family to march into harm’s way. But the degree of difficulty of that commitment is compounded for Guard and Reserve volunteers who also disconnect from businesses and full-time careers.
America would not have endured without those who “turn from primary citizen character into a standing army.”
This morning on The Small Business Advocate Show I talked more about the sacrifices of America’s citizen soldiers and offered two poems in memory of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Click on one of the links below to download or listen.
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