Life and Living: Remembering And Honoring Our Veterans’ Sacrifices – Musing On a Poppy

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In Flanders fields the poppies grow
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.

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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.

     These words were penned in the spring of 1915, by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, after burying his friend and fellow soldier, Alexis Helmer. The century that has passed since these words were penned has witnessed another world war, while also being punctuated by several regional conflicts between nations. Here in the U.S., we have borne the pain of not one, but two attacks on our own soil. We have been embroiled in overseas conflicts, including a few which were not at all viewed favorably by those back here at home. Through both peacetime and war, however, there have been brave men and women who have sacrificed much, including their very lives, to ensure the freedom of others.

     Veteran’s Day. It can’t be mere coincidence that this day falls within the same month as Thanksgiving, and I would hope that the implications of this arrangement of days aren’t lost on my fellow life travelers. I for one, am thankful for the many sacrifices that our men and women in uniform make, on a daily basis. In contrast to the days of WWI, our military is now a completely voluntary endeavor. This means that the sacrifices start when a man or woman makes the conscious decision to sign their name on the dotted line, raise their right hand, and swear an oath to “support and defend.” Since September 11th, 2001, men and women have done this while our nation has been on a wartime footing, knowing full well what the ramifications are, which makes the sacrifice that much more meaningful.

     A cursory Google search of the words “Veteran’s Day,” will return page results that make mention of various discounts, sales and freebies that our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines can avail themselves of, which is all well and good as long as we don’t lose sight of the true purpose of the day…which brings me back to Lieutenant Colonel McCrae and his rondeau, “In Flanders Fields.”

“Earn this.”
(Captain Miller’s last words to Private Ryan, from “Saving Private Ryan,” ©1998 Dreamworks / Paramount.)

     As not only a veteran myself, but also as a civilian whose freedoms are currently being watched over by those in uniform, I honestly feel that the question we should all be asking ourselves, is this: “How can I “take up the quarrel with the foe”? How can I “hold the torch high and keep the faith”?” How do we honor their sacrifices, not only on this day, but every day that follows?

     If we’re truly thankful and appreciative in our hearts for the many sacrifices made by our veterans, the question becomes easier to answer. It can start with something as simple as (sincerely) thanking a veteran for their service, but it cannot stop there. We need to press our government to take better care of our veterans, especially our disabled and wounded veterans, than they have done so far. We need to encourage our elected officials to seek peaceful solutions to geopolitical differences. We need to act more favorably and magnanimously toward our fellow life travelers…and ourselves. In short, we need to strive to make the world a place where war is what it should have always been, the last resort of last resorts.

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