Eugene Bryant has a tradition of spending Memorial Day with family - his military brothers and sisters who gave up their lives in service to their country.
"When I think about Memorial Day, I think about all the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice, their selfless acts," said Gene, an Air Force veteran and TD Bank's Senior Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Manager. "These are our true heroes; I will never forget that."
It's why he and his wife drive from New Jersey to Arlington, Virginia to participate in the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation (MDFF) program. There, joined by scores of other volunteers, they distribute flowers to families visiting their fallen loved ones buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Gene is one of many TD volunteers active with MDFF's efforts, a program TD has supported since 2013.
The TD team gets to the cemetery around an hour before it opens at 8 a.m. and stays for five or more hours distributing between 8,000 – 10,000 flowers.
While in past years, the event included many more volunteers and more flowers, the 2020 event may have been even more meaningful due to difficulties getting flowers at that time with shutdowns of many businesses.
"It was a really emotional experience for us because a lot of the families were very appreciative and grateful since they said 'we didn't think we'd have any flowers this year,"" said Gene, who is co-lead for TD Bank's Business Resource Group (BRG) in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The meaning of Memorial Day to military families
JoAnna Mason, a Regional Field Marketing Lead for TD Bank also volunteers in the MDFF event. JoAnna is the wife of a Navy and Air Force veteran, who served for more than 18 years before transitioning to the State Department with continued deployments when duty calls.
"Volunteering on Memorial Day is very personal," she said. "As a military spouse I have experienced first-hand, the effects and scars that remain with our military men and women that no Hollywood film remake can do justice."
JoAnna will never forget the feeling of dread she had while her husband was serving.
"During my husband's deployments there were many sleepless nights when I prayed endlessly for his safe return," she said. "I was blessed to get my husband back……but for those spouses who didn't, I join with many other volunteers in remembrance of what those spouses lost and to honor the men and women that left home understanding they could be making the ultimate sacrifice."
Remember what the day is about
For many Americans, Memorial Day is primarily a day to kick off a summer of fun. With COVID-19 restrictions loosening this summer, it may even be more celebratory than in other years. But others are asking to remember what the holiday is about.
Cathy Hicks is a Gold Star mother who lost her son, Lance Corporal Jon T. Hicks, at the age of 20 in 2007, while the Marine was doing patrols in a Humvee in Iraq. Cathy, a TD Bank Supervisor for Item Processing and Foreign Check Collections, will be attending ceremonies and a parade in her hometown of Atco, New Jersey at the Memorial site to commemorate fallen soldiers.
"Everyone could benefit by attending some kind of ceremony on Memorial Day," she said. "It's quite heartwarming to see the town get together to remember the ultimate sacrifice our loved ones have made."
She asks all of us to take the time to reflect and commemorate our fallen heroes on Memorial Day.
"Each year, I spend Memorial Day reflecting about how I am forever grateful to our military members," said Ernie Diaz, Head of Consumer Distribution & Wealth and Executive Sponsor of TD Bank's Veterans pillar. "We must never forget the sacrifice of our fallen heroes and their families."
Gene also asks that all of us take a pause from the festivities to remember.
"Let's remember the brave men and women who, who gave their lives for our country. That's really what this is all about," he said. "It's nice to be with family and the activities, festivities, and how we celebrate the day. But we really should pause a little bit and remember the brave men and women."