Memorial Day, a holiday to honor those who gave their lives for our country, has evolved into a day recognized primarily through parades, barbecues, drinks and discounts. Though U.S. service members today fight and die in multiple countries, and cemeteries across the country stand as monuments to lives lost at war, we’ve forgotten how to commemorate sacrifice. But I believe we can rediscover the meaning of this special day on May 29, thanks to the new #FlowerOnEveryGrave campaign.
It’s not surprising that we’ve lost track of Memorial Day’s purpose and meaning. With less than one percent of today’s U.S. population serving, and less than seven percent having served at some point in their lives, it is easy for Americans to lose track of war’s toll.
For me, Memorial Day immediately takes me back to remembering my late father, Air Force Veteran Lt. Col. Tom Charters. He embodied service before self and sacrifice. Well before I was born, he received orders in his first year on active duty to deploy in support of Vietnam with the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing. He returned home, met my mother, got married and continued proudly serving his country for 28 years. He faced many challenges in the military, but met his greatest challenge as a Veteran, when he was diagnosed with cancer.
Suddenly, the superman we knew became human. I wish I knew how to prepare for this hardest chapter of our lives. Together, we supported each other as a family and his strength was what kept everyone going. The last day I was in his presence, he was draped in our nation’s flag and still carried the same strength I was so familiar with. His battle ended at home and not in war, yet he is the first person I think of every Memorial Day.
Not everyone has a personal story and connection to Memorial Day, but we Veterans should not continue allowing our fellow Americans to spend the day without remembering those who are no longer with us.
The key to renewing our recognition of Memorial Day – and making sure all Americans once again feel encouraged and empowered to express their respect for our deceased military heroes – lies in our knowledge of Memorial Day’s history. Originally known as Decoration Day, it was inaugurated after the Civil War, when Union Veterans established it as a day to lay flowers on the graves of Union war dead.
The act of laying flowers is a simple act that does not require one to personally know someone who gave their life for a cause, only to recognize the value of the sacrifice a stranger made on behalf of our common nation. A small non-profit, The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, has already worked in recent years to reclaim this effort by laying roses on as many graves as it can reach at Arlington National Cemetery, the nation’s flagship Veterans cemetery. They have laid a foundation that I am helping to build on in 2017 with the #FlowerOnEveryGrave campaign, so that we can properly recognize our nation’s deceased heroes – people like my dad.
RallyPoint, the online military network with nearly 1.2 million military and Veteran members, has partnered with a wide array of for-profit and not-for-profit partners on the #FlowerOnEveryGrave campaign to make it easier for Americans to honor those who gave their lives to protect our freedom.
In coordination with The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, we are working to significantly increase the number of flowers laid on the more than 300,000 tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Anyone can donate to cover the cost of these flowers, even if they do not live near Arlington.
Additionally, we encourage everyone—Veteran, service member and civilian alike – to visit their local Veteran cemetery and lay a flower on a Veterans’ grave. This simple act is modest, but provides the emotional and historical power required to renew our awareness of Memorial Day in 2017. To join the campaign, just visit Remember.RallyPoint.com/Flowers.
I am on a mission to unite Americans on Memorial Day, May 29, and make sure we know how to honor our fallen through the simple act of placing a #FlowerOnEveryGrave across the country.
Brandon Charters, a five-year Air Force Veteran, is the director of accounts for RallyPoint, the nation’s largest military social network.