Whatever we call today, it is above all else a day to honor all of the men and women who have fought in foreign wars (or “conflicts”) and survived to return to their home here in the United States of America. Sure, it began as a celebration of the armistice that ended World War I, but it has evolved into a holiday for all of our veterans, whatever war they served during.
Following is one of my favorite of the Great War poems and one oft cited on Veterans’ Day; perhaps here in America and now, its call to keep up the good fight, to continue to victory as a means of honoring the sacrifice of the dead soldiers, doesn’t hold the same meaning for some people. But this poem . . . is powerful.
In Flanders Fields
Lt. Col. John McCrae
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.
Another poem that may hold more meaning to many Americans, certainly to those who support our veterans and active troops but oppose the war, is also a Great War poem, one that calls out the “lie” about wars:
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.
GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Whatever our stance, be we for war or against it, I get choked up thinking about it, for yes, Memorial Day is terribly poignant and significant as we remember our fallen, and now, on Veterans’ Day we remember–celebrate, thank, honor–those who did not die in battle, but who would bravely have done so. While they didn’t pay “the ultimate price,” they gave so much of their lives, time, emotion, psyche, strength, courage, and bodies–in many cases becoming maimed and/or disfigured. They live each day with the horrors they experienced in the name of our freedom, and for all this, I believe that on this day each and every Veteran deserves our respect and gratitude for their service to our country.