Every Memorial Day and every Veteran’s Day (November 11th) veterans stand outside certain commercial establishments selling poppies. Why the poppies? As the years go by, fewer and fewer people understand the significance of poppies and November 11th.
November 11th commemorates the anniversary of World War I’s armistice. At eleven a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 an armistice was signed ending the Great War, the War to End All Wars, a war that had torn apart the fabric of Europe and cost more than 30 million lives.
The poppies are in special memory of one of the great battlegrounds of the Great War. In an area in northern France and Belgium known as Flanders, more than a hundred thousand men died fighting back and forth over a few score miles of territory.
On April 22, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, near a Belgian city of that name in West Flanders, the Germans launched a heavy attack on French and Canadian positions. The Germans used chlorine gas for the first time in this battle, and its effects were horrible; but in over two weeks of intense fighting the German troops were unable to break through. Lt. Colonel John McCrae, Canadian soldier, poet, and physician, participated in the battle. He described it as a nightmare. On May 2nd he saw his close friend, Alexis Helmer, killed. McCrae performed the burial service himself, and afterwards he wrote the following poem.
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.
The poppies still grow and blow in Flanders Fields. May we never forget the brave sacrifice of those who died there.
And let us forever honor the brave men and women who served our nation on the battlefields of Europe, North Africa, the Pacific islands, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They often struggled through mud and grime, bitter snows, and searing desert heat. They also fought in the air and on the high seas. Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice, and even more returned home grievously wounded in body or mind. Remember them, and support them.
And may God protect the sons and daughters of this nation who continue to serve in our armed forces all over the world. In the words of the old barracks ballad, “Bless them all!”