I think most people know this, but just so we’re straight let’s clarify that there’s a fundamental difference between Memorial Day in May and Veterans Day in November. The group that we honor on the Memorial Day holiday is deceased, while the Veterans Day group is still alive. This distinction poses a real marketing dilemma to local businesses since dead people can’t come in and buy stuff. So, the marketers and ad agencies pretend to be too stupid to understand the difference and continue to put out commercials that say things like, “We want to salute our veterans on this Memorial Day weekend, so come in and get 10% off on . . . “
I say “pretend” because although I do think Jon Hildebrand at Caldwell Country New and Pre-Owned Chevrolet is dumber than a bag of hammers, he’s not too stupid to do what many thousands of business managers and marketers do every Memorial Day: illogically appeal to people’s sense of patriotism in order to increase profits.
For people who have lost friends and family members in war, Memorial Day means much more than the opportunity to inflate second quarter sales. A few years ago I was invited to speak at a Memorial Day ceremony in Broward County, FL and I was so overwhelmed by the whole thing that I pretty much fell apart and could hardly deliver my remarks in an intelligible fashion. Dave Green, a friend of mine, had been killed in Iraq the year before. Dave and I had attended Amphibious Warfare School in Quantico together and then went to Camp Lejeune. He got out of the Marine Corps a couple of years later and then went back on active duty after 9/11. That fact, along with the remembrance of the millions of others who died (probably some survivor’s guilt, too) really hit me hard.
So, how do I propose we celebrate Memorial Day? I believe we should pause and remember the sacrifices of the fallen and keep their families in our thoughts and prayers. And that pause should be fairly brief. Then we should go for a bike ride or go to the lake or the pool or the ballgame and enjoy the weekend with our families. Because I guarantee you that’s what Dave Green would want to do more than anything else.
And if any business wants to really celebrate Memorial Day, I challenge them to either give all the money they make this weekend to a scholarship fund for the children of people who have lost their lives in the service or close up shop for three days to give their employees a chance to celebrate with their families. They should at least stop trying to cynically leverage tragic death and heroic sacrifice into an opportunity to make money.