“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.”
— Col. John McRae, “In Flanders Fields”
Nov. 11, Veterans Day in America — Armistice Day 1918, remembered.
From 1914 to 1918, Flanders Fields, Belgium, was a major battle theater on the Western Front during the First World War. A million soldiers from more than 50 different countries were wounded, missing or killed in action there. Entire cities and villages were destroyed, their population scattered across Europe and beyond. The destruction of the city of Ypres and the brutal conditions endured during the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Battle of Ypres) became worldwide symbols for the senselessness of war.
Today, the peaceful region still bears witness to this history through its monuments, museums, cemeteries and the countless individual stories that link it with the world.
Remembrance of the First World War will always live on in Flanders, in places such as the Menin
Gate, where the Last Post sounds every evening; Tyne Cot Memorial and Cemetery (the largest
Commonwealth military cemetery in the world); and the many, many memorials dedicated to the fallen and the missing. Also, the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields.” by John McCrae, went on to inspire the use of the poppy, which once grew on the battlefields of Flanders Fields, to become an enduring symbol of remembrance across the world.
“Mother! What is that?” a seven-year-old girl asked after encountering a display of red flowers and red, white-and blue signs. Her mother, who was weary of constant questions, simply answered, “We’ll talk about it when we get home.”
That satisfied me; the little red flowers that the uniformed man was selling took a backseat to supper and I forgot a lesson that I was too young to understand.
Fast forward about 20 years; I was a teacher of 11th grade English, assigned to be in charge of the Veterans Day program. The theme must be special, unusual, fantastic — but what?
A soft voice whispered, “What about poppies?” The answer! My faithful committee gathered together and made millions of small paper poppies to cover the gym, the wall, the windows, everything. It looked as if it had snowed poppies.
Then I noticed — someone had taken the nearest poppy from the wall and stuck it over his heart. The poppies were more than decoration, more than teenagers being silly. With each poppy put on a heart, the pep rally rumble became a soft, reverent silence. The giant audience was listening.
The poem that once grew on the battlefields of Flanders Fields had gone on to inspire more Americans. John McCrea’s call to duty had become an enduring symbol of remembrance to young people, once again. ‘Round Town!
Glenda Byars is a correspondent for The Gadsden Times. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.