On Memorial Day, Remember The Militia, Too

Jim Blasingame

Reasonable people disagree on the origins of what is now called Memorial Day. But most accept that the practice of decorating graves of Americans who died defending their country began in earnest by women of the South during and following the Civil War.

On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, Commander of the Army of the Republic, was the first to make Memorial Day official with General Order No. 11, which stated in part that, ". . . the 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country . . ."

Since then, other than Congress making Memorial Day a national holiday and changing the date to the last Monday in May, America has honored its fallen heroes from all conflicts in pretty much the manner that General Logan anticipated with the language of his order, whereby "... posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit . . ."

When America issued its first call to arms, before it was a country, before there was a professional army, that call went to the militia, which was identified as, "all able-bodied men." Calling themselves the "Minutemen," because they could be ready to fight on a minute's notice, they were primarily shopkeepers, craftsmen, farmers, etc. Today, we call them small business owners.

From as far away as Scotland, America's Minutemen were impressive. Writing about the colonies' quest for independence from England in his classic work, "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith predicted America would prevail thanks to its militia which, ". . . turns from its primary citizen character into a standing army."

By the 20th century, state militias had become part of the National Guard. And by 1916, the National Defense Act created another layer of citizen soldiers, the Reserves.

Prior to the war with Spain in 1898, latter-day Minutemen served only on American soil. But ever since, including two World Wars and four major conflicts, America has deployed its citizen-soldiers around the world, right alongside regular armed forces. In the current Iraqi conflict, Guard and Reserve members have been one third of U.S. forces, and alas, account for a comparable percentage of casualties.

Whenever they've been called, small business owners and employees have demonstrated their courage -- and die, if necessary -- on the battlefield. So on this Memorial Day, as we honor all who have paid the ultimate price in service to this country, let's also remember the long tradition of America's small business volunteers to serve faithfully, in harm's way, on behalf of a grateful nation.

Write this on a rock... America would not exist, nor have endured, without the sacrifice of those who turned from their, "primary citizen character into a standing army."

Jim Blasingame is creator and host of the Small Business Advocate Show.
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