Peter Carmeci, the commander of the Tusten Highland Lumberland VFW, includes in all of his services a poem about how the soldier creates the opportunity for a nation to have free speech, religious …
Peter Carmeci, the commander of the Tusten Highland Lumberland VFW, includes in all of his services a poem about how the soldier creates the opportunity for a nation to have free speech, religious freedom, a free press, a representative government. It is the soldier, not the lawyer, not the minister, not the Congress. It is the soldier.
I have always been resistant to this poem, believing that it is all of us who collectively maintain these ideals. This Memorial Day, I muse that this poem holds true. I think about Ukraine and how soldiers are fighting and losing their lives to protect free speech in Ukraine, government in the Ukraine, freedom of religion, self-autonomy and life in Ukraine.
On this Memorial Day, when war is in full view, it is indeed the soldier who has given their life to uphold these ideals.
Memorial Day, especially this one, gives us the solemn chance to reflect on those sacrifices as well as the atrocities and limitations of war. Through news coverage and graphic images of the gory and brutal effects of war, we understand rape and savagery, wanton destruction and terror as strategic planning. We have the opportunity to reflect on how, after the war is over and there are few victors and many losers, life continues to grow and recreate itself. We find newborn awareness that we are obligated to remember those sacrifices and work to give them meaning in the world.
That was the clarion call of the 1915 poem “In Flanders Field,” written by Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian artillery unit brigade surgeon who served on the front lines. It’s a call to remember the causes for which soldiers die.
That poem, which was reprinted in 1918 in the Ladies Home Journal, compelled University of Georgia professor Moina Michael to write her own poem, titled “We Shall Keep the Faith.” She was so taken with “In Flanders Field” that she vowed that she would make poppies a way of remembering and raising money for the support of veterans. From her experience teaching disabled veterans, she realized the need to provide financial and occupational support for these servicemen. Silk poppies could be sold as a means of raising funds.
By 1921, because of her efforts, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans by the American Legion Auxiliary, and by Earl Haig’s British Legion Appeal Fund (later the Royal British Legion) later that year.
That poem, and that effort, has helped raise awareness and millions of dollars to support veterans nationwide. Indeed, those funds and the commitment of local veterans groups, particularly the VFW, provide support for veterans close to home as well.
In Flanders Field, it comes full circle. From the war-torn earth, the poppies grow. It is an impetus for each of us to keep the faith. It is the reminder that the renewal of life, our good works and our remembrance can birth a world that we all yearn for.
This life force, this keeping of the faith, is the ultimate healing of the world.
And make no mistake, it is the response of the love and ultimate sacrifice of those who have died to protect it.
We thank you for your service, veterans.
In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae, September 1915
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.
We Shall Keep the Faith
by Moina Michael, November 1918
Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
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