Today is Memorial Day. The day set aside since 1968 to honor our American soldiers who have fought and sacrificed their lives, minds and bodies in American conflicts.
The red paper poppy has for years been symbolic of Memorial Day, but in the recent past I have not seen them distributed as much by the American Legion Auxiliary. I still have one on my kitchen counter near the sink, however, which I look at every day and remember.
The following piece was taken from The Boston Globe’s Fast Forward newsletter written by Teresa Hanafin. She’s one of my favorite writers. I hope McCrae’s poem brings the same tears of joyful sadness to your eyes as they do to mine.
In Flanders Fields
“Finally, those red poppies you see as the traditional commemorative flower of Memorial Day arose from the poem In Flanders Fields written in 1915 during World War I by a Canadian doctor, John McCrae.
McCrae, a lieutenant colonel, had buried a dear friend who was killed during fighting against the Germans in the Flanders region of Belgium. The next day, he sat in the back of an ambulance and put his grief into words.
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.
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.
As you enjoy your cookouts and parades this weekend, please take a moment to remember those who didn’t dodge service by faking bone spurs and whose sacrifice made our celebrations — our very lives — possible.”
Note: Waterloo, New York is considered the birthplace of Memorial Day because the town had made May 5, 1866 an annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags in observance of their sacrifice. Hence, in the early years following the Civil War, it was often called Decoration Day.