2021 Memorial Day message from American Red Cross Regional CEO Mike Parks,
Rear Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired)
Family & Friends of the Northern Ohio Red Cross: May—what a busy month!!! There are many things we typically celebrate in May including this year: Cinco de Mayo (5th), Military Spouse Appreciation Day (7th), Mother’s Day (9th), International Nurses Day (12th), Armed Forces Day (15th), the Red Cross’s 140th Anniversary (21st), and, last, but certainly not least, Memorial Day (31st).
I’d like to focus on the last two—the founding of the Red Cross by Clara Barton in 1881 and the holiday we now know as Memorial Day both had their origins on the battlefields of the American Civil War. Clara Barton was inspired and founded the American Red Cross years after she, as a nurse, cared for wounded soldiers during our War Between the States. The compassion she showed those suffering troops still inspire all of us today fortunate enough to serve in “Clara’s Army”—arguably the world’s premier humanitarian organization—an organization that still serves veterans, members of the Armed Forces, caregivers and their families some 140 years later. Thank you for all you do to support the American Red Cross!
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. Following the Civil War, which claimed more lives than any conflict in U.S. history, the country’s first national cemeteries were established. By the end of the 1860’s various towns and cities were holding springtime tributes to those countless fallen soldiers by decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers. The first official Decoration Day was May 30, 1868 and Ohio’s own General James Garfield gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery while 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Civil War soldiers buried there. Although initially focused on honoring those lost in the Civil War, Decoration Day expanded after World War I to honor those who died in all American Wars. In 1968 Congress passed legislation which established Memorial Day as a federal holiday on the last Monday in May—a change that went into effect in 1971. Now, every Memorial Day, we continue to honor those men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
Memorial Day weekend is often seen as the unofficial start to summer and we often celebrate with parades, dedications, and other commemorative events. Unfortunately, many of those activities were cancelled last year due to the global pandemic. Fortunately, thanks to many restrictions being eased or lifted, a number of these patriotic activities are again being held this year. I encourage all of us to take some time out of our weekends to help honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms we quite often take for granted. Whether it’s our children or grandchildren, I believe we have an obligation to help ensure future generations will always remember freedom isn’t free and often comes at an extremely high price—a price paid by those heroes we honor on Memorial Day. Whether we’re at a barbecue, a picnic, a ballgame, at the beach, out on the Lake, or working serving others, let us use Memorial Day to count our blessings as we remember those who courageously gave their lives in defense of our country. Let us remember to proudly display our American flags and hopefully, we can all pause for a moment of silence at 3:00 pm local time for the National Moment of Remembrance.
As I close, let us never forget that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants and walking in the footsteps of heroes. May each of you have a memorable and enjoyable Memorial Day as we honor our nation’s fallen heroes!! Best regards…Mike
This video was shot on Memorial Day, 2017 in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Mike spoke at the Memorial Day observance in Hiram, Ohio in 2021. Visit our photo album here. Photos by Dave Dreimiller. Visit Dave’s blog for more photos here.