Friday, November 11, 2005

Remembering Veterans

In Flanders Fields

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.

"In Flanders Fields" is perhaps the most widely known poem from a war that produced a lot of good poetry. (No, NOT the Vietnam War, which may have produced some fine soldiers who went on to serve in later conflicts, but produced zilch in the way of poetry worth reading.) I usually read "In Flanders Fields" on Veteran's Day, which is the post-WWII name for what used to be called Armistice Day, a day celebrating the end of WWI and honoring those who died in it. Now we in the USA mostly celebrate our living veterans on November 11, and honor the dead veterans on Memorial Day.

And--not to sound like a broken record--I think one of the best ways to honor veterans, living or dead, is to pray for them. Praying isn't everybody's thing, of course, but we can all take a moment to think about the people (mostly men) who have served our country, some of them to the point of giving their lives, and remind ourselves that we sleep peacefully in our beds because rough men stand willing to serve in such ways.

Many of those who served in WWI--and possibly even some who died in WWII--have no one alive who remembers them, and the generalized prayers or thoughts of strangers is all they have. I once read a poem by an English poet (whose name I can't remember--sorry!) that had the men of the Great War "disappearing" as the people who could remember who those uniformed young men in photos on the mantel were died off. There are still some WWI veterans around, but most people who can remember that time are gone. Eventually no one will. It's a sad thing, but it happens to every generation and the best we can do are these "generalized memories", reminding ourselves that there was such a group and that such and such happened back then. As Vonnegut (a WWII vet) would say, so it goes.

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