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OPINION

#FlowerOnEveryGrave a simple act of respect

By BRANDON CHARTERS | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: May 24, 2017

Memorial Day, a holiday to honor those who gave their lives for our country, has evolved into a day recognized primarily through parades, barbecues, drinks and discounts. Though U.S. servicemembers today fight and die in multiple countries, and cemeteries across the country stand as monuments to lives lost at war, we’ve forgotten how to commemorate sacrifice. But I believe we can rediscover the meaning of this special day, which falls on May 29 this year.

It’s not surprising that we’ve lost track of Memorial Day’s purpose and meaning. With less than 1 percent of today’s U.S. population serving, and less than 7 percent having served at some point, it is easy for Americans to lose track of war’s toll.

For me, Memorial Day takes me back to remembering my late father, Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Charters. He embodied service before self and sacrifice. Well before I was born, he received orders in his first year on active duty to deploy in support of Vietnam with the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing. He returned home, met my mother, got married and continued proudly serving his country for 28 years. He faced many challenges in the military, but met his greatest challenge as a veteran, when he was diagnosed with cancer.

Suddenly, the superman we knew became human. I wish I had known how to prepare for the hardest chapter of our lives. Together, we supported each other as a family, and his strength was what kept everyone going. My last day in his presence, he was draped in our nation’s flag. His battle ended at home, not in war, yet he is the first person I think of every Memorial Day.

Not everyone has a personal story or military connection to Memorial Day, but we should not allow ourselves and fellow Americans to spend the day without remembering fallen veterans.

The key to renewing our recognition of Memorial Day — and making sure all Americans once again feel encouraged and empowered to express their respect for our deceased military heroes — lies in our knowledge of Memorial Day’s history. Originally known as Decoration Day, it was inaugurated after the Civil War, when Union veterans established it as a day to lay flowers on the graves of Union war dead.

The act of laying flowers is a simple, impactful act that does not require one to personally know someone who gave their life for a cause, only to recognize the value of the sacrifice that a stranger made on behalf of our common nation. A small nonprofit, the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, has worked in recent years to reclaim this effort by laying roses on as many graves as it can reach at Arlington National Cemetery, the nation’s flagship veterans cemetery. They have laid a foundation that I am helping to build on in 2017.

With Memorial Day around the corner, I’m honored to be a part of a new national movement, #FlowerOnEveryGrave, to properly recognize our nation’s deceased heroes — people like my dad.

RallyPoint, an online military network with nearly 1.2 million military and veteran members, launched the #FlowerOnEveryGrave movement to make it easy for Americans to honor those who gave their lives to protect our freedom. We have partnered with the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation and a wide array of for-profit and not-for-profit partners to provide Americans with two options to show their respect for veterans no longer with us.

In coordination with the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, we are working to maximize the number of flowers laid on the more than 300,000 tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery. Any American can give, even if they do not live near Arlington.

We encourage Americans across the country to visit their local veteran cemetery and lay a flower on the tombstone of a local veteran. This simple act is modest, but has plenty of emotional and historical power to renew our awareness of Memorial Day in 2017. To join the campaign, visit Remember.RallyPoint.com/Flowers.

I am on a mission to unite Americans on Memorial Day and make sure we know how to honor our fallen through the simple act of placing a #FlowerOnEveryGrave across the country. I hope people across the United States take the chance May 29 to properly recognize our fallen veterans, and come together while doing so.

Brandon Charters, a five-year Air Force veteran, is the director of accounts for RallyPoint military social network.

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