Monday, May 20, 2013

Memorial Day

During Memorial Day weekend, I think of the poppies that veterans groups sell to raise funds for different causes. Wild poppies only flower when other plants in their direct neighborhood are dead. Their seeds can lie on the ground for years and years, but only when there are no more competing flowers or shrubs in the vicinity (for instance when someone firmly roots up the ground), will these seeds sprout. Wild poppies flowered on the battlefield of the Western Front, because the whole front consisted of churned up soil. In May 1915, seeing the blood-red poppies blooming in the fields where many friends had died, John McCrae, a medical officer, was inspired to write his poem “In Flanders Fields”. It commemorates the deaths of thousands of young men who died in Flanders during the grueling battles there. The poem remains to this day the most memorable war poem ever written. It goes like this:

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.

Memorial Day is much more than a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer. To many people, especially the nation's thousands of combat veterans, this day, which has a history stretching back all the way to the Civil War, is an important reminder of those who died in the service of their country. Take a moment this weekend to remember those brave soldiers.

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