The top half of a tablet, featuring a figure of Columbia -- a goddess-like personification of the United States -- wearing a spiky helmet, and holding sword in her right hand and a wreath in her left hand, with the names of Prudential employees who died serving in World War I engraved alongside the image of Columbia. Prudential unveiled this bronze memorial May 28, 1920, to honor the 1,729 employees who served in the World War, and the 50 known to have died in the war. (Credit: The Weekly Underwriter)

Americans will spend Monday honoring the memory of members of the armed services who have died in the service of their country.

The country will also honor the memory of civilian first respondents who have died, and of health care workers, grocery store employees, warehouse employees and other essential workers who have contracted severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and died of COVID-19, while trying to keep the country moving.

A little more than 100 years ago, Prudential Life Insurance Company observed Memorial Day by unveiling an 8-foot-tall war service memorial in its home office, in Newark, New Jersey.

Resources

  • A copy of The Weekly Underwriter article about the Prudential memorial unveiling is available here.
  • An article about a life insurance industry fund that will support survivors of workers who die fighting COVID-19 is available here.

Prudential — the forerunner of today’s Prudential Financial Inc. — hired Albert Randolph Ross to design the memorial, and Anton Schaaf and the Gorham Company to make the memorial.

The memorial featured an image of Columbia, the personification of America, wearing a battle helmet on her head, holding a sword in her right hand, and holding a wreath in her left hand, according to the memorial’s Library of Congress copyright catalog entry.

Prudential commissioned the memorial to honor the 1,729 company employees who had fought in what was then called “the World War.”

The memorial makers engraved the names of the 50 Prudential employees who died in the war alongside the image of the goddess.

In 1920, Memorial Day took place on May 30, on a Sunday. Prudential held its memorial unveiling ceremony two days before, on May 28.

The Weekly Underwriter, an insurance trade journal of the time, published an article about the ceremony and extracts from a letter Forrest Dryden, Prudential’s president, put the pamphlet issued in connection with the ceremony.

Here are portions of those extracts:

Memorial Day, Nineteen Twenty

Out of sorrows and holy sentiments came Memorial Day. Tenderly we lift the curtain and bow in silent reverence to those who died, that we might carry on and keep for our children and our children’s children a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Only through the lapse of thoughtful years can we fully comprehend the real meaning of it all.

Since the immortal fifty-six patriots signed the Declaration of Independence the valor of American has been tested in fifty-nine independent wars, campaigns and expeditions. To list these details would require pages. War Department records of the early-day struggles are admittedly incomplete and untrustworthy. But we can refer briefly to the main conflicts…

Here are 503,559 officially recorded deaths of Americans who threw aside anticipated futures replete with honors and profits, full of promises and rewards of ambition — men who abandoned all cherished hopes and sealed with their blood their last testament to the service of mankind.

And what of ourselves? Are we living heroic lives? Is not our supreme lesson that we, of this day, hold in fee the great trust placed with us by those whose bodies lie upon the altar of their country? Is it not our shame if we fail to carry out the faith they began and permit this nation to drift from its high ideals to the usurpation of power by men whose conception of control would be personal aggrandizement and the debasement of all that is clean and upright?

Let us meet the problems of today with courage and fortitude equal to that shown by the recorded half-million of dead patriots. Let us serve and sacrifice for the welfare of a country that is now so much in need of good men, tall men, great men. We have been left the legacy of splendid accomplishment. Let us hold it sacred. They died for us. Let us live that these deaths shall not have been in vain.

Above all, let us say with the American of Americans, Theodore Roosevelt: “If when I die, the ones who knew me best believe that I was a thoughtful, helpful husband, a loving, wise and painstaking father, a generous, kindly neighbor, and a courageous patriot and citizen, that will be a far greater honor and will prove my life to have been more successful than that I have ever known as president of the United States.”

— Read Let’s Help Enlist Veterans in Financial Services Careerson ThinkAdvisor.

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