A better understanding of Memorial Day
On Nov. 19, 2009, Wal-Mart's senior manager of executive communications sent American Legion Post 378 in Gulf Breeze, Fla., a letter that caused applause from both Post 378 Legionnaires and veterans nationwide. Starting in 2010, Wal-Mart stores in the United States will discontinue the sale of fireworks until after Memorial Day.
"If Wal-Mart management wondered what the thunder was they heard last November, it was 25 million veterans in America applauding their decision to discontinue the sale of fireworks on Memorial Day," said Mike Esmond, Americanism chairman of Post 378. "Somehow, the true meaning of Memorial Day has gotten lost in all the backyard barbeques, beach parties and sales. It's a day to honor veterans' memories, not celebrate their deaths."
Esmond and his fellow Post members were not aware that Wal-Mart sold fireworks on Memorial Day until May of last year. This awareness motivated the Legionnaires to resume their letter-writing campaign with Wal-Mart, a campaign that started back in 2002 with local supermarket Winn-Dixie.
While shopping in Winn-Dixie prior to Memorial Day in 2002, Esmond saw a shocking display that brought tears to his eyes - signs that read "Celebrate!" were posted next to rows of fireworks for sale. The shock of fireworks being sold on a day devoted for honor and remembrance of fallen soldiers inspired Esmond and his fellow Legionnaires to write letters in order to get their voices heard. They wanted to voice their idea on how to change the way Americans view and respect the significant holiday.
Therefore, the CEO of Winn-Dixie received numerous letters urging him to stop selling fireworks on Memorial Day. The letters came pouring in from Post 378 members, along with other local post commanders and members from various veteran organizations - thanks to Esmond attending their meetings and gaining their support.
As a result of the Legionnaires' persistence, the CEO responded in February of 2003 with a letter to Post 378 that stated Winn-Dixie would discontinue selling fireworks on Memorial Day for that year only. The Legionnaires' voices were heard, but only for a brief time. "We had won the battle then, but we knew not the war," Esmond said. But 2009 marked a new year for winning the war with a new target - Wal-Mart.
Starting last May, Legionnaires sent Wal-Mart's upper management letters urging them to discontinue selling fireworks on a day American's should be "honoring the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect this great nation and not celebrating their death," Esmond said. In a span of seven months, more than 50 letters were sent, and for that reason, Wal-Mart relented, announcing in November that fireworks will no longer be sold in U.S. stores until after Memorial Day.
Moreover, the news of Wal-Mart's immeasurable decision spread quickly, as Esmond read the letter to those involved in the campaign. Everyone applauded with excitement, including Post 378 Commander Bud Freeman, who "felt a surge of patriotism like you feel during the national anthem." The letter also had a significant impact on Esmond.
"When I read it, I jumped up out of my chair with excitement, and then I sat down and cried," Esmond said. "I cried because I knew I was holding in my hands a letter that would make a difference in changing the mindset of a lot of Americans in the way they think about Memorial Day."
And because of Wal-Mart's decision, letters currently addressed to its management have a different tone to them.
"For six months I have gone around to posts asking them to write letters to condemn Wal-Mart for selling fireworks," Esmond said. "Now I'm going back around asking them to write letters complimenting Wal-Mart for discontinuing the sale of fireworks."
Esmond even wrote to President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain regarding Wal-Mart's way of showing appreciation for the service and sacrifice of U.S. military personnel and their families.
"The whole purpose of the letter-writing campaign is to change the attitude of American's viewpoint of Memorial Day," Esmond said. "Because if we don't teach our younger generation the proper respect for Memorial Day, then who will?"
In the meantime, the letter writing campaign presses on with Winn-Dixie, as Post 378 members continue to wait for a response that coincides with the one from Wal-Mart.
If you too would like to thank Wal-Mart, please address a letter to:
Sr. Manager, Executive Communications
702 SW 8th Street
Bentonville, AR 72716