While the calendar won’t tell us, Memorial Day came along early this year. My mother used to call it Decoration Day because when she was a child, it was a day when all families visited their family cemeteries and placed flowers there in remembrance.
Thoughts about Memorial Day struck me when in today’s news I saw a picture of Queen Elizabeth II visiting the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. She was smiling and shaking the hands of some veterans of that great war, all seated in wheel chairs now, but once brave young soldiers and sailors pushing back against an evil that grasped much of the world in its hold.
The Queen was no armchair princess back then either. She volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service and served as a truck driver when she was 19. The royal family also elected to stay in London during the many German bombings, rather than retreat to a safer spot in the countryside. She and her family threw their lot in with other Londoners and her country has never really forgotten it.
So here we have this beautiful, poignant picture of the British monarch thanking those who helped end that war. She and they lived through it and they never forgot the sacrifices that went into winning. One of the veterans said, “I thought it was a great gesture from her to pay respect to the men who died to bring salvation to her country in World War II.”
As moving as this tribute was, there is a deeper meaning to this Memorial Day in 2007 and we should remember that too. That’s because on 400 years ago on May 14, a little band of men and boys landed near a swamp on the James River and planted what became the first permanent English colony. Other European nations had colonies in the new world before that, but this one was very different. It was founded by a privately chartered company of investors and entrepreneurs, the London Company. Settlements of most other European nations were the handiwork of government. We should reflect back this year on those first settlers and the private funders behind them because they launched the free enterprise system we cherish–or should cherish–throughout this land. They built the first manufacturing plant–for glass bottles–to repay the investors for their passage to the New World. They also brought British notions of self-government that led to the House of Burgesses in Virginia and eventually to our own direct election of representatives in Congress.
That’s a lot to be thankful for this Memorial Day and the Queen’s visit has prompted these thoughts well ahead of the day on the calendar.
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