Honoring Those Who Never Came Home

Just West of Cambridge, England on an immaculate slope of deep green grass surrounded by sprawling woodlands lies a powerful reminder of the tragedy of war. The Cambridge American Cemetery sits on more than thirty acres. The land was donated to the U.S. by Cambridge University. It remains the only permanent American World War II military cemetery in the British Isles.

As an American graduate student at Cambridge University and a U.S. Navy Veteran, I was drawn to this sacred place. During my time in England, I made many trips here to walk among the 3,812 white grave markers neatly arranged in a 90-degree arc, each one facing a large American flag in the center.

Every white cross and star of David represented a young American who died in the Battle of the Atlantic or in the bombings of Northwest Europe. As I walked the rows, I found myself reading the names, calculating their ages, and thinking about these heroes. These were young men and women who left their country to defend a place far from their homes.

These were young men and women who left their country to defend a place far from their homes. Click To Tweet

I was very close to my two grandfathers who both served in World War II. They each had a profound and powerful effect on who I am as a person. One served on a Navy Destroyer Escort in the Atlantic and the other was in the Army in the Pacific theatre. Both men survived the war, returned to their hometowns, and started families. They had children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Each lived a long and happy life.

The heroes buried in Cambridge never had that chance. These brave Americans died young and never returned home. Their lives were cut short and they remain silent on that quiet slope of green grass in the British countryside. On Memorial Day, I always find myself thinking about those heroes on that hill.

These brave Americans died young and never returned home. Click To Tweet

As a veteran, I worry that Americans will forget about the men and women who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms we enjoy. The declining number of veterans is part of my concern. In 2016, only 7% of U.S. adults were veterans, down from 18% in 1980. The gap between those who served and those who didn’t continues to grow. This could lead to Americans forgetting about those that sacrificed so much.

Today, Memorial Day has become a three-day weekend with sales, picnics, barbeques, vacations, and the unofficial start of the summer season but it didn’t start out this way. It was originally called Decoration Day and was dedicated to honoring those that died serving in the military.

After the Civil War, America was dealing with the loss of more than 620,000 soldiers. General John A. Logan, the leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for May 30th to be set aside “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country.” The date was chosen specifically because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle.

On the first Decoration Day on May 30, 1868, former Union General and Ohio Congressman James A. Garfield spoke at Arlington National Cemetery. His words were clear and powerful. He proclaimed that “We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For the love of country, they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”

That day, more than 5,000 Americans showed up at Arlington to decorate the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. From that point forward, the tradition grew with similar celebrations throughout the country.

For more than 50 years, Decoration Day commemorated those killed in the Civil War only. It wasn’t until World War I that the tradition expanded to include American military personnel who died in all wars. Memorial Day, as we know it, became an official federal holiday in 1971 as Americans dealt with the effects of the Vietnam War.

Today, Memorial Day is an American federal holiday, observed on the last Monday of May. It’s set aside to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. It’s a tradition to fly the flag at half-staff from dawn until noon and Americans are encouraged to visit cemeteries and place flowers or flags on graves to honor those who have died in military service. It is celebrated each year at Arlington National Cemetery with a ceremony in which American flags are placed on each grave and the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the “National Moment of Remembrance Act” which designated 3:00 PM local time on Memorial Day each year as the National Moment of Remembrance. It is tradition to have either a moment of silence or to play “Taps” at 3:00 PM.

This Memorial Day, let’s remember these American heroes. Take time to find a local memorial service in your area. Visit a military cemetery or memorial. Watch the ceremony at Arlington. Share in a moment of silence at 3:00 PM. Spend time to think about the young men and women who left their country to defend our freedoms so far from their homes and let’s honor those that never came home.

The Perfect Pandemic Pivot

I have given several webinars over the past few weeks on leading during a crisis and one of the topics I like to discuss is making a pivot. Once you understand how this pandemic affects your team, your organization, and your industry, you need to chart a new course.

But – and this is really important – you need to stay true to your mission.

If you pivot, you need to stay true to your mission. Click To Tweet

Let me give you an example.

You’ve probably heard of the company, Life is Good.

It’s a lifestyle brand founded in 1994 and is best known for optimistic T-shirts and hats, many of which feature a smiling stick figure named Jake.

It’s probably not surprising to learn their mission is to “spread the power of optimism.”

I’ve watched them make a pivot during this COVID crisis and you can see it too. On the front page of their website, every T-shirt is related to the global pandemic but in a hopeful, optimistic, and positive approach.

For example, you can get a shirt with golden retrievers on a Zoom call or Sasquatch as the social distance world champion.

They call these shirts, “lighthearted tees for uncertain times,” and they are consistent with their mission to spread the power of optimism even in a global pandemic.

You might be thinking, that’s great Jon but I don’t own an optimistic T-shirt company, how can I make a pivot?

Good question!

I recently had Philip Freeman as a guest on my podcast. He is the founder of Murphy’s Naturals, a company that manufactures natural products for outdoor living – think bug repellent. I wanted to have him on the podcast because of the pivot he made in his business.

And…how it was entirely consistent with his mission statement.

Murphy’s Naturals’ mission is to celebrate nature and inspire good through quality natural products. They believe in “doing others good.”

During this pandemic, Philip quickly realized the world desperately needed hand sanitizer and he had the assets and people who could produce this essential product.

So, he and his company made a pivot and began to manufacture hand sanitizer.

But not just for any customer either. Philip’s company ended up becoming a supplier to the U.S. Navy who desperately needed this essential product.

And true to the company’s mission, Murphy’s Naturals’ hand sanitizer is 99.99% natural.

Inspiring good through quality natural products is not just a mission statement in a dusty binder on a shelf for Murphy’s Naturals, it’s something that is lived every day, even in a global pandemic.

A mission statement is something that is lived every day, even in a global pandemic. Click To Tweet

So, what about your organization? What pivot are you considering or have you done already?

More importantly – is it consistent with your mission?

Pivoting in a crisis is important but pivoting with a purpose is absolutely critical to maintaining your company’s authenticity.

Stop Reading and Start Doing

Reading and research are great but they can also keep you from achieving your goals. Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is to just do it.

A Man of Action

Last week I had the chance to meet an amazing leader, Mike Erwin. If you don’t know Mike, you should. He’s the guy who started one of the most significant and impactful military veteran organization in history, Team RWB. That would be a life’s work for most leaders but not Mike. He used what he learned in creating Team RWB to launch another non-profit organization, The Positivity Project, which trains school children across the country in the importance of positive relationships and character traits. Both of these organizations have impacted the lives of thousands of people in significant ways.

Mike is a man of action. He’s not afraid to turn what he is learning into real, concrete results. He is willing to take the leap and get started knowing he doesn’t have all the answers. Mike understands that, at some point, you need to stop reading and start doing. He recognizes the best way to learn something is by actually doing it.

“We have a world of information at our fingertips. What we need is the wisdom to discern what to do with that information.” Mike Erwin

Taking Action on What you are Learning

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know I love to read. I believe that leaders should be life-long learners. I also prefer to listen to leadership books on Audible or business podcasts instead of music when I’m traveling. I’m constantly being exposed to new ways of thinking. But what you may not know is that I keep a commonplace notebook, a simple place where I keep all the things I’m learning and the various ideas I have. And, I love turning those ideas into action. Let me give you an example.

I’m currently reading Stadium Status: Taking Your Business to the Big Time by John Brubaker. This is an amazing book about the mindset it takes to grow your ideas into a movement. In one chapter, John talks about a successful approach he used during his time as a college lacrosse coach. He knew the importance of building a great team and the significance of recruiting, so he coined the phrase “Recruit Daily or Perish” or RDOP. John wrote these letters everywhere in his office and even had them printed on the back of his phone. He knew he had to reach out to at least 20 people every day to recruit players, boosters, and supporters of his program. I loved this concept so I wrote it down in my commonplace notebook but then I did something else, I took action.

Quick Wins

I adopted and adapted John’s approach to fit my needs. As a small business leader, the most important thing I need right now is growth and orders. So, I took RDOP and changed it to SDOP, “Sell Daily or Perish.” I added contacting 20 customers a day to my daily routine. In the past two weeks, I have connected with more than 200 people in my industry, looking for a way I can help them. As a result, I have become more sales-focused and my company gained more than $40,000 in new orders. Taking an idea it and turning into action yielded significant results.

“It takes more than coming up with some great ideas to succeed in life. The land of success is only full of doers.” – Edmond Mbiaka

Too often I see leaders who read and research but they never take action. They are overcome with the paralysis of analysis and the fear of the unknown. They think that, if they study an idea long enough, they will know exactly how to do it. The truth is, you will never know until you try. I prefer to take the Mike Erwin approach, to take what I am learning and create real, concrete results. I know I don’t have all the answers but I’m going to learn along the way.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Take the Leap

So, what are you studying right now? What is preventing you from turning that into action? Maybe it’s time take to the leap and get started even though you don’t have all the answers.

Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what projects you’re working on.


P.S. In his spare time, Mike Erwin also co-authored a book with Raymond Kethledge called Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude which is one of my favorite leadership books. It inspired me to write an article about leadership and solitude.