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Memorial Day Is About Respect and Remembrance

Memorial Day
AFL-CIO

The working men and women of the AFL-CIO join the Union Veterans Council to wish all a safe Memorial Day weekend. This is a time to respect and remember those who gave their lives for the bedrock freedoms of our nation.

Let’s resolve to honor their sacrifice by redoubling our efforts to secure and make real those freedoms for every worker in America, so working people can win new economic rules built on broadly shared prosperity.

As we start our Memorial Day weekend, it always seems I get a few questions about the holiday, what it means and how Americans can be respectful on this day. The answer is not that easy. Decoration day has morphed into just one more corporate holiday where you can get great deals on furniture, cars and those American flag swimming trunks. But for veterans, especially combat veterans, the weekend has another meaning.

When I signed up to serve in the U.S. Army Infantry, I did so knowing I was going to face the possibility of not coming home. That is what millions of Americans who signed up have done throughout our history. Nothing prepares us for the harsh reality of war. I was deployed multiple times to some of the worst locations in the global war on terror. I have seen great personal loss of friends and people who are closer to me that most of my own family. This is the reality for so many veterans and their families. Memorial Day is a sacred day whose full meaning I will never be able to put into words.

Union members have a historic bond with veterans. Many of our modern trade unions were founded by war veterans who returned home and then banded together for the collective power to win good lives. Over the generations, each wave of veterans has renewed that bond, and the same is true today.

The chances are good that each one of us knows, works with or otherwise has a connection to at least one person who has lost a friend or family member to war.

Case in point, if you are a member of a local, state or national union, chances are you know a post-9/11 veteran. Some one in four post-9/11 veterans work as public servants. One-third of all federal employees are veterans. It is likely that you work with someone who has either lost a friend or family member to war.

I recommend you do a few thing this weekend. First, be respectful. You may not know it, but someone you know may be going through a tough time. Second, reach out. If you know a veteran who served in combat or family member who lost someone, talk to them and let them know they have your support. And finally, celebrate the lives of our lost service members. If you are having a cookout or family reunion, take a minute to recognize why we memorialize this weekend. 

We also can honor our veterans by fighting for full funding for the U.S. Veterans Affairs and supporting efforts to train and employ our veterans for good union jobs. Each day 20 veterans commit suicide. One of the leading causes is financial instability. Unions can help. On average, a veteran who is member of a union makes $12,000 more annually, giving them the financial freedom to transition back to their civilian life, providing hope of a bright future for those who have sacrificed for us.