By Mike Parks, Regional CEO, American Red Cross of Northern Ohio, Rear Admiral, USCG (Retired)
Northern Ohio Red Cross Family:
May is an important month for those men and women, and their families, who have chosen to serve our nation as members of the Armed Forces. In 1999 Congress designated May as Military Appreciation Month to ensure the nation was given the chance to publicly show their appreciation for troops past and present. Each year the President makes a proclamation reminding Americans the important role the U.S. Armed Forces have played in the history and development of the United States. May was chosen because it has many individual days marked to note our military’s achievements including Loyalty Day (observed on May 1st and established in 1921 by Congress as “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and the recognition of the heritage of American freedom”) and Victory in Europe (VE) Day (observed on May 8th commemorating the end of WWII in Europe in 1945).
We also observe Military Spouse Appreciation Day every May on the Friday before Mother’s Day (this year on May 6th). President Reagan first recognized Military Spouse Appreciation Day in 1984 when he said, “Throughout the years, as the numbers of married men and women in uniform have grown and as their military missions have become more complex and dispersed, their spouses have made countless personal sacrifices to support the Armed Forces. In many instances, they subordinated their personal and professional aspirations to the greater benefit of the service family.”
On the third Saturday in May, we celebrate Armed Forces Day which was created in 1949. Not to be confused with Veterans Day, which honors those who wore the cloth of our nation at war, or Memorial Day, which honors those who died wearing the cloth of our nation at war, Armed Forces Day honors both the men and women currently serving as well as those who have previously served and sacrificed to defend our nation’s freedom—which we all hopefully know has never been “free.”
That brings us to the last Monday in May—Memorial Day—which is next Monday, the 30th—when we honor members of the Armed Forces who have died in military service to our nation. Much like our beloved American Red Cross, Memorial Day has roots dating back to the post-Civil War era when citizens would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers. Memorial Day is one of the six recognized holidays we all celebrate in the Red Cross (an official day off)—appropriately so I might add. That said, many Red Cross staff and volunteers will be participating in Memorial Day events around the country–in Northern Ohio, we’ve got folks supporting the ceremonies at Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Seville and Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo. As well, Red Crossers around our Region and the country will be responding to those in need throughout the holiday weekend. Thank you to those serving!
Today, when many people hear “Memorial Day” they think of the unofficial beginning of Summer, backyard barbeques, sales, and maybe even parades. The word “memorial” means “intended to commemorate someone or something.” I’m concerned that many are losing focus on what this special holiday is all about—are we truly commemorating those who paid the ultimate sacrifice? I recently attended some events where our National Anthem was played and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited. I must admit I was saddened to see so many people failing to show the proper respect by placing their hands over their hearts in tribute to our flag and our nation, and by extension, those who have sacrificed for both.
I think we all, especially as members of the premier humanitarian organization in the world—the American Red Cross–with its roots in the blood and mud of the battlefields of the Civil War, are well-suited and have an obligation to set the right example—year round. Please join me in committing to stand tall, remove our caps, and place our hands over our hearts when the National Anthem is played or we recite our Pledge of Allegiance. We should also do the same when the American flag is “paraded” by us, both indoors or outside. These small gestures will go a long way to acknowledge those who have fallen as well as those who remain to deal with their loss—we owe them that much—not just on Memorial Day but throughout the year!
Thank you for all you do to support this wonderful organization—I’m proud to serve alongside each of you. I hope you get to enjoy this special holiday with your family and friends while remembering those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. God bless America!!