Everyone knows that Memorial Day is the unofficially official kickoff to summer. Bring on the beach (if it's near), head to the mall for those awesome deals and fire up the grill for some burgers and beer. The fun frenzy often obscures the actual purpose of the holiday. In fact, a 2011 poll found that 80% of Americans don't understand the true meaning of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is different from Veterans Day, even though people often confuse the two. We honor all veterans on Veterans Day, but Memorial Day is reserved for remembering those vets who died in service of their country, especially those who died in battle. Originally established as Decoration Day in 1868, the ceremonies surrounding this holiday have evolved over the years and are observed with some slight differences throughout the country (indeed, many of the Southern states take an additional day to observe the Confederate soldiers who died in war).
In 2000, Congress passed "The National Moment of Remembrance Act" as a way of properly honoring America's fallen heroes. The White House Commission on the National Moment of Remembrance is chartered with encouraging "the people of the United States to give something back to their country, which provides them so much freedom and opportunity" by encouraging and coordinating commemorations in the United States of Memorial Day and the National Moment of Remembrance.
As a part of this Act, the National Moment of Remembrance asks all Americans to stop whatever they're doing at 3pm local time, wherever they are, and for one minute observe a moment of national unity and commemoration. The hour of 3pm was chosen because it's precisely when many Americans will be fully enjoying the fruits of the freedom our heroes fought and died for.
As noted by the Uniformed Services Benefit Association, here's what will happen at 3pm on Monday:Trains will blow their whistles
- Almost 500,000 Major League Baseball fans will pause for a moment of silence
- Cars will drive with their headlights on
- Americans everywhere will wave flags
- "Taps" will play throughout the nation
Companies have a unique opportunity to honor America's heroes, not just at 3pm on Monday, but throughout the year. Corporate volunteer and giving programs have the potential to make a big difference in the well-being of veterans and their families through directed corporate philanthropy efforts. For example, Major League Baseball has been a longtime champion of veterans, with more than $30 million committed to the nonprofit Welcome Back Veterans ever since its inception in 2008, helping to raise year-round awareness of the challenges faced by returning military.
Similarly, Bank of America is bringing back its "Express Your Thanks" campaign, which asks individuals to share their expressions of gratitude for former or current members of the military by tagging photos, messages or videos of thanks on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with #troopthanks. In turn, Bank of America will make $1 contributions to Welcome Back Veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project, with the hope of reaching an overall goal of $1 million.
I've written extensively about companies with in-house programs designed just to support veterans. From Prudential and Merck, to Starbucks, Hewlett Packard and Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, it's inspiring to see how Corporate America is recognizing the value of helping veterans - not as an act of charity but as a smart business move that leverages the unique skills of those who have served.
For individuals seeking to support vets, United We Serve, President Obama's nationwide service initiative, is always looking for new volunteers. The organization has a special focus on helping military families and veterans, and makes it easy to connect with veterans service organizations and volunteer opportunities that support the military community.
Whether you're a company engaged in a full veterans campaign, an employee volunteering in small ways to support military families, or an individual who's not involved in this area at all, everyone can and should offer a moment of their attention and respect to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
Set your cell phone alarms now.