Wednesday, November 11, 2009

God Bless our Veterans

     My grandfather was a WWI veteran, serving in the same 42 Infantry Rainbow Division as Uncle Henry had served in WWII.  He witnessed the horrors of war and watched many of his buddies fall in battle. Grandaddy could never talk about his war days without getting tearful, and he usually preferred not to mention them at all. The memories were still too fresh and painful even in his eighties. During WWII, a beloved family member, Lapsley Barron, gave his life during the landing on Anzio Beach, and his body still rests beneath a white cross at  the military cemetery, Netumo, on the shores of Italy. Veteran's Day wasn't just another holiday to my grandfather, it was a chance to show the deep gratitude and respect he felt for all his fellow war buddies, a moment that was deserved by every fallen soldier.
     Every Veterans Day, Grandaddy faithfully marched down to the Post Office to purchase red poppies from the American Legion. He and my grandmother  wore them proudly all week-- his pinned to his lapel, Grandmother's pinned to her purse.
     As Sissey and I drove through the Post Office yesterday, the auxillary wives were seated out front,  offering poppies to customers on their way into the building.  I wondered when I saw them how many people still knew the story of the poppy and how the custom of wearing them on Veteran's Day had begun.
     The symbolic poppies represent all veterans who have died serving their country during any war. The tradition of wearing them on Veteran's Day originated in Lt. Col. John McCrea's beloved poem, "In Flanders Field." During WWI, fighting had been particulary fierce on the Western Front, especially in Flanders. Dr. McCrae was an army surgeon who had just finished seventeen grueling days of treating soldiers injured in the 3 fierce battles that had occurred  in  the Ypres salient, one of the biggest battlefields in Belgium during WWI.  He was tired and greatly discouraged by the terrible injuries the young soldiers had sustained. In particular, a young friend of his, a twenty-two year old fellow doctor, had died from injuries sustained in a shell burst, and that weighed heavily on his heart and mind. Dr. McCrae was called on to conduct the funeral ceremony later that day as no chaplain was available. He wrote his famous poem the next day, May 3, 1915, as he sat in the back of an ambulance parked beside the cemetery where his friend was buried. Red poppies had sprung abundantly across the battlefields where so many soldiers had died during the fierce fighting. As Dr. McCrae watched the poppies blowing back and forth under a gentle wind, and as he looked out over the cemetery that held the bodies of so many fallen soldiers, he wrote the following words on a notepad, his simple attempt to deal with the frustrations of war, the loss of lives, the horrors of battle.
     I include his words here, in honor and memory of all our veterans, past and present, who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending freedom around the globe.  Thank you and God Bless Our Vets.

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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