By Diane M. Calabrese / Published May 2014
The certainty that flowers would be in bloom everywhere inspired Major General John A. Logan to declare in 1868 that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. That is one root—there are at least 25—for the day that officially became Memorial Day. President Lyndon B. Johnson named Waterloo, NY, and 1866 as the place and year of the origin of the day.
In 1971, the U.S. Congress made Memorial Day a national holiday and moved its observation to the last Monday in May. Perhaps the most important logistical intervention by Congress came in December 2000 when it passed The National Moment of Remembrance Act (PL 106-579)—suggesting that wherever we find ourselves at 3 p.m. local time on Memorial Day, we pause for a moment of silence to remember those who died in service to the United States.
Thankfully, most veterans return home to their loved ones and their communities.
Members and veterans of the five active-duty Services (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard) and their respective Guard and Reserve units, which also serve on active duty (as needed and part time), contribute to the vigor of the nation in quiet and important ways.
It’s not easy to get veterans and active military members to talk about themselves. (This writer learned quite belatedly about a loved one who survived at Guadalcanal when his ship, the U.S.S. Atlanta, went down, as well as two mentors who were at the Battle of the Bulge.)
Don’t try to get veterans to talk about themselves. But do expect to see models of how to persevere and get the job done—all with equanimity.
“At Alkota Cleaning Systems, Inc., we have a number of employees who served in the military,” says Gary Scott, President of the company based in Alcester, SD. Among them are Jay Hallaway and Bob Haas. “Jay and Bob were Reservists who were deployed to Iraq while employed here.”
“I believe there were several important things learned in military service, which include attention to detail, teamwork, and focus on the end goal or mission,” says Jay Hallaway, an electrical engineer at Alkota. “There were several experiences that affected my professional life. They include NCO academies and overseas deployments.”
Hallaway was a member of the Minnesota Army National Guard for 19 years and the South Dakota Army National Guard for five years. His colleague, Bob Haas, an engineering technician at Alkota, served in the U.S. Army from 1974–1977 and then in the South Dakota Army National Guard for three years and the South Dakota Air National Guard for 23 years; he retired from the military in July 2004.
“The most important thing that I learned during my military service was cooperation,” says Haas. “I learned to live, work, and train with people from all walks of life. “I would definitely recommend enlisting for all young people, as long as they understand what they are about to undertake,” says Haas. “It is also important for them to research all their options and get the training they want.”
“When I’m interviewing people, I look at whether they have had military service,” says Tim Layden, Owner of High PSI Ltd. in Glendale Heights, IL. “That’s a plus for me.” Layden’s own military experience came full circle recently. “I was in the Army infantry,” he explains. “I was sent to Vietnam in 1970. I was there for about 14 months.”
The experience in Vietnam motivated Layden to return to the country. “Karen and I and our daughter, Kim, went back there about six years ago,” he explains, speaking of his wife Karen Layden and his daughter Kim Micha. “It was wonderful. The Viet-namese people are wonderful.”
The visit to Vietnam took Layden to “a beautiful country with nice, friendly people—hardworking people,” he explains. There was also poignancy in the trip. “We went to Hanoi,” says Layden. “We toured the ‘Hanoi Hilton.’ It was anything but a Hilton.” The former site for holding POWs still had photos that were designed to portray it as something it was not, such as stills of prisoners playing volleyball. “It was very sad.”
Experience comes in many forms, each and every day. For those who served, there is an added and robust dimension. “It’s an experience I had for life—the good and the bad,” says Layden. “I only talk about the good.” And there is plenty of good in serving. “You get to see the world,” says Layden. “You get some training. When I got back from service, I went to college …on the GI bill. Most of the jobs in the Army, Navy, Air Force—you don’t get near the front lines.”
Layden would like to see all young people serve or at least consider serving. He points out that in terms of a career path, service may open many doors. A 20-year veteran could, in fact, retire at age 38 and pursue a new path post-service with solid experience and education.
Young people have sought out Layden over the years, asking advice about joining the military. He is an enthusiastic proponent of service. It’s a way to “learn a little work ethic,” he explains. “I think the thing the Army teaches you most is discipline and teamwork—both are very important in business.”
Cooperation is simply a given in the military. “You learn to get along with everybody,” says Layden. “You’re thrown in with everybody.” Service is also about friendship. “…I am still friends with a lot of the people I served with over there,” says Layden.
For individuals considering military service, Todaysmilitary.com is a great gateway to information about each branch of service. There are details on the role, expectations, and range of service possibilities in each branch.
This Memorial Day, let’s all take time to remember all our service members who died in war—perhaps to even place some flowers at memorial sites as part of the tradition borne of Decoration Day. Let’s take time, too, to consider what we can learn from one another, especially our colleagues who are veterans.