A previous career – circa 1993.
Memorial Day is a United States Federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May. Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates U.S. men and women who perished while in military service to their country. First enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War, it was expanded after World War I to include casualties of any war or military action.
For me at least, Memorial Day is about much more than just cookouts: Without the courage of young American men who came to Europe to fight the Nazis, I would have been born in a German-speaking France. Or perhaps not at all.
Though I was born in 1971, I grew up in the shadow of WWII: My grandfather was a Cavalry Officer in both WWI and WWII. A hefty chunk of my family on my Mother’s side was killed by the Nazis. I grew up in France, surrounded by memorials, military cemeteries and the pockmarked landscapes of Normandie, Ypres and the Ardennes. Think old bunkers, craters and fields of white crosses like the photo below. My mother, who was 11 when Allied troops finally landed and remembers the war all too well, still – to this day – keeps an emergency supply of sugar and butter… just in case the Germans decide to give it another go, I suppose.
I grew up with the paratroopers’ prayer framed over my bed, and the annual ritual of having my father let me hold my grandfather’s medals (above). I grew up with countless stories of sacrifice and courage and bravery, and about a year ago, I discovered a stack of perfectly preserved family letters from 1917 and 1918 that gave me even more insight into what it was like to live in the midst of a world war, from both the side of the soldier and the side of the family who waited for him. I understand both the pride that comes from your family having a military tradition and the scars that such a tradition can leave behind. There are no heroes without sacrifice and no sacrifice without pain, and more often than not, the balance between those two things is just not that simple to manage.
If I grew up with a profound love for all things American, it must have begun with this: long ago, decades before I was born, thousands of American soldiers crossed the Atlantic to come save us. Between 1917 and 1918, and again in 1944, they came, and thousands died in our fields and on our beaches. Their graves are still there. I used to go visit them when I was little. Fields of white gravestones. It’s no accident that I ended up moving to the US. The seeds of that move were planted decades before I was born. How could I not want to live in a country of heroes? How could I not raise my children here?
What does this have to do with brand management, marketing or social business? Not one thing… but it’s Memorial Day and I never let it go by without thinking about the daily sacrifices made by men and women in uniform. To those who can’t be with their loved ones today, and to the families of the fallen, I say thank you.
And Thank You to all who serve and have served in the United States Armed Forces – not just on this day, but every day.
Je me souviens.
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Olivier Blanchard is the author of Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. (You can sample a free chapter at smroi.net.) If English isn’t your first language, #smROI is also available in Spanish, Japanese, German, Korean and Italian now, with more international editions on the way.