In 2004, I visited the WWII Memorial during a long overdue dedication ceremony in our nation's Capital. It was my first tour of any national monument, a visit that still feels surreal even if but a distant memory. While I briefly studied the Vietnam War in third and tenth grade, I hadn't really understood the impact of WWII until I attended the dedication ceremony on Memorial Day 2004. Seeing all of these disabled and elderly veterans, experiencing Rolling Thunder, and walking through history was humbling. In spite of 400,000+ lost American lives, it took over 60 years to accomplish the WWII memorial. Until I visited, I never could actually sense the magnitude of sacrifice. The presence of tens of thousands of those veterans, aged, proud, quiet and accompanied by their families, mingling with their brothers finally illuminated the stories I heard in school. The significance of the pillars, gold stars, and inscriptions was overwhelming. They visually represented a fraction of the reality on the ground. Of the many inscriptions upon the monument that revealed the depth of American and worldwide sacrifice, two were particularly potent.
Upon the Freedom Wall - Field of Gold Stars. Each star represents 100 Americans who died in WWII, and there are 4,048 stars.
"HERE WE MARK THE PRICE OF FREEDOM"
Upon the flagpoles - This sentiment could be the single most unifying purpose in the hearts of Americans and our soldiers.
AMERICANS CAME TO LIBERATE, NOT TO CONQUER, TO RESTORE FREEDOM AND TO END TYRANNY
The names on the Vietnam War Memorial with imposing starkness against a dark stone wall are again, humbling. I'll use that word again; I can think of no better description. So too were the gold stars of the Wold War II memorial, representing 400,000+ soldiers who payed the ultimate sacrifice. It is their sacrifice that enables us to drive safely to our jobs, worship or not worship of our own volition, and sit comfortably on a beach, in our conditioned homes, and in coffee shops with friends across America.
My husband, a history major and retired Army officer spoke recently of the harrowing start to WWII. Dropped into Normandy on D-Day under heavy anti-aircraft fire, at speeds 100 mph above training scenarios, equipment ripped from their bodies at high speed, groups of soldiers landed outside their designated areas. These brave men assembled, collaborated, improvised, and reset intentions inside enemy territory to forge individual units with plans to course correct and complete their missions. Untold examples of heroism against the odds, duty before self, and the will to defeat divisive, brutal tyranny united the world to an outcome we are fortunate to be able to discuss today. A generation of unyielding, innovative soldiers, shaped America's destiny by accepting a duty, purpose, and weight incomprehensibly heavy. In the aftermath, a grateful nation was forever changed, activated, and strengthened as veterans returned home to again innovate and course correct by establishing their own businesses. In renewed purpose, veterans found a mission stateside. As WWII closed, 40% of new businesses that started after the war were owned by veterans, Replenished American labor transferred the benefits of hard earned resilience and the investment paid off, rewarding America with a golden age of prosperity and achievement. In contrast, following OIF, OEF, and persistent work in the Global War on Terror, today just 4.6% of new businesses are owned by veterans. Consider the world absent the innovation of the thousands of small improvised units on D-Day 1941. Where would we be today?
Due to their commitment we comfortably make plans and build our own lives as we travel, visit family and friends, or undertake independent paths. Between enjoying celebratory moments, on Memorial Day, we will pause to consider the sacrifices of the men and women who've both held and penetrated the line to prepare the way for a better world. They would have it no other way, because that was the entire point. When we choose to proceed in life, we uphold and honor their sacrifice. We sustain their memory by living our best, releasing the guilt and judgement that always surface these days when processes seemingly oppose our own methods. This is unnecessary and fruitless. I think the best way to honor their sacrifice is by proceeding through a life of choice, exercising freedom in large and small ways.
Of the many opportunities we might seize, we can achieve much by choosing entrepreneurship. We can undoubtedly solve some of our greatest challenges that lie ahead. We can support a veteran with a business idea. Check out Bunker Labs ( https://bunkerlabs.org/our-locations/raleigh-durham/ ). Too, we can choose strong leaders who understand the significance of life lived in freedom and in service. They will call upon that experience and hard earned wisdom and be tempered by it. We can choose to support veteran owned organizations, many of which were inspired by brothers and sisters that paid the ultimate price. If you're looking for some veteran owned businesses to engage, check out Marjorie Eastman's Deck of 52 (here) to discover some local, regional, and national veteran missions on the move. We can choose to allow our sons and daughters the opportunity to serve should they so choose and prepare our hearts and minds for that choice. We can choose to engage our veterans who have seen more of this world than most all of us combined and we can all reap the rewards of hiring veterans to strengthen our own workplace conversations and familial teams.
One last critical action. Honor their infinite sacrifices by choosing to make Memorial Day your day too. They wouldn't want it any other way.
Photo credit: Rick Latoff / American Battle Monuments Commission