On Memorial Day, we honor those who died while serving in the military. Here we look back at how New York Life has supported our country’s heroes throughout our long history.
The Memorial Day tradition began in the late-1860s, to honor the fallen soldiers of the Civil War. 1Today it is commemorated across the country with events such as veterans’ parades and Civil War battle re-enactments. Due to COVID-19, this year Memorial Day events are largely taking place virtually (check for the latest updates), but we will still solemnly remember our heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.
In the darkest hours
New York Life has a long and storied history of supporting the military, and of providing critical financial support to America’s war efforts. In the darkest hours, the company’s employees have pulled together to support our country. Many gave some; some gave all.
The Civil War: Patriotic obligation, honorable conduct
During the Civil War (1861-1865), New York Life remained true to its values throughout the ordeal.
For example, the company was within its rights to cancel all combatants’ contracts ‘without concession or compensation’, but didn’t. A death in combat was not supposed to be covered under policy but the company “felt that persons voluntarily exposing themselves to the deprivations and dangers of the camp and the battlefield were entitled to every facility to enable them to make provision for their families in the event of death.”2 This typified the company’s policy of doing the right thing over making the most profit, of exhibiting honorable conduct, even in the most extraordinary circumstances.
World War I: Ready to serve
When the U.S. entered World War I in April 1917, New York Life responded, both as an institution and as individuals, to assist the mobilization of the U.S. military, economy and fighting spirit. Employees contributed to all aspects of the war effort, from fundraising to military service. The readiness of New York Life’s employees to volunteer and serve set the tone for the company’s philanthropic, humanitarian and social responsibility campaigns of the future.
Over the course of the conflict, the company purchased nearly $90 million in low-yield war bonds — more than $1.8 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. In 1918, our expertise in insurance directly benefitted those in military service when chief actuary Arthur Hunter helped the government develop a special life insurance policy for soldiers - both in service, and after - which was one of the first modern veterans’ benefits.
World War II:
In World War II, the company mobilized its reserves for the good of the country. We invested heavily in government bonds to help fund the war effort, increasing to nearly $2 billion by the war’s end.
Once again, New York Life employees pulled together to do all they could to help as civilians on the home front. So many home office employees volunteered for the New York City Patrol Corps that they had their own company. More than 2,000 New York Life employees served their country in uniform, including 45 of whom gave the last full measure of devotion. In the words of L. Seaton Lindsay, “All of us, in the Field and in the Home Office, can take real pride in the way the agents, agency men and employees are meeting their wartime responsibilities.”3
Then and now: supporting veterans, honoring the fallen
After World War II, New York Life recruited new agents freshly discharged from the Armed Forces and looking for their next step — 74 percent of new agents who joined New York Life in 1946 were returning veterans! Ever since, New York Life has continued to offer veterans, of the conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan and others, the chance to forge a post-service career at the company with dedicated training programs.
The company also continues to support events and memorials that commemorate the fallen. For example, we granted $400,000 to restore the Eternal Light Flagstaff monument in Madison Square Park in New York City.
Over a year after the pandemic began, it’s more important than ever to honor the sacrifices that others have made for our country. Together we will salute them this Memorial Day.
2 James M. Hudnut, “Semi-Centennial History of the New-York Life Insurance Company”, 1895, p. 132
3 Hudnut, “Semi-Centennial History of the New-York Life Insurance Company”
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