SCE_0300aHere in the US we’re celebrating Memorial Day today. The holiday originated in 1868, after the Civil War, where an event called “Decoration Day” encouraged citizens to decorate the graves of those who died in that war.

It wasn’t until after World War I that the holiday expanded to honor those who died in all American wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday.

My dad served in the US Navy in World War II. Like many other members of the “greatest generation,” Dad didn’t speak of his wartime experiences with us. When we posed questions, he didn’t answer directly. He said he was proud to serve, that he was well behind the front lines, and that others had it far worse than he did.

Dad was proud that his service would enable he and my mother to be laid to rest at Riverside National Cemetery. When Dad passed away in April 2011, I arranged for Dad’s funeral service and burial there. The photo above is of two US Navy officers folding the American flag that was featured in Dad’s service that day.

Dad’s funeral service was a wonderful celebration of his life and his military service. We were lucky in that Dad survived his service days. Many families suffered the ultimate loss when their loved ones were killed in war zones.

Very few Americans have served in the military. One recent estimate is that 7.3 percent of living Americans have served in the military at some point in their lives. All Americans are grateful for their service.

The total number of Americans who have died in American wars is approximately 1,264,223 as of this date. The greatest majority were over 618,000 Civil War deaths and over 405,000 World War II deaths.

This holiday, we pause to celebrate their service, their courage, and their sacrifices.

The impact of combat on those who serve is significant – mentally, physically, and spiritually. The film American Sniper, the story of US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, is praised as an accurate depiction of the horrors of modern urban warfare.

It is a powerful film, showing the demands on service members in the midst of a seemingly unending war, on them as parents, on them as teammates, on them as trained professionals. What they experience in combat, in moment-to-moment live fire conditions, leaves a deep impression on their bodies, minds, and spirits.

Exceptional medical care in the field today enables wounded service members to return home, when in past wars their wounds would have caused their deaths. They return and attempt to put their lives back together among civilians who have never seen what they have seen.

I believe all service members deserve our gratitude for their willingness to put their lives on the line, every day, to serve their country. And, on this day, we remember and thank those who gave their lives in such service.

What is your experience? How can we civilians show our genuine appreciation to active and former service members appropriately? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © S. Chris Edmonds Photography. All rights reserved.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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