Opinion: Thank a veteran

News  /  Opinion

Cathy Reilly, Assistant to the Publisher

Many of us know “On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month….” It refers to today, the annual commemoration of the Armistice of World War I, marking the ceasefire of that horrific bloodbath, which ended in 1918. The name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954 in order to recognize all who had served in the U.S. Military. To me this day really comes down to two things: honoring the service of those who survived — often at great cost to their physical and/or mental health — as well as remembering those who’ve lost their lives. Both of these groups fought for our freedoms.

At this time of year, I often think of “In Flanders Fields,” a beautiful and haunting poem about casualties of war. It was written in 1915 by a Canadian soldier, Col. John McCrae. He was a physician who served in France during what was then variously referred to as “the Great War” and “the War to End All Wars.” McCrae was moved to compose this after the death of a friend during those hostilities. It is as follows:

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.

Those last few lines make me ponder the debt we owe to those who served our country. I interpret them to mean that it is not just about that specific conflict. They also, I believe, remind us of our obligation to strive to preserve those freedoms for which so many paid such a high price.

During my freshman year in college, I took a class titled “Introduction to Poetry” and I try to imagine the discussion about this poem that might have ensued if it’d been on our syllabus. I would raise the point that the most common color of poppies is red, same as that of blood. The torch McCrae writes of could be thought of as the lamp that the Statue of Liberty holds, widely recognized as a beacon of freedom. (An aside: Until recently reading more on this poem, I didn’t realize that the poppies that quickly grew up around the graves of the war dead in Flanders were wild, not planted. The poppies themselves can literally be seen as life renewed.)

Of course, the color red also can denote anger and aggression. Our country has certainly experienced plenty of both in recent years. Is this truly what our predecessors sacrificed for? But voter participation and the many subsequent results from Tuesday’s midterm elections have increased my faith that maybe, just MAYBE, what they fought and died for was not totally in vain.

Our country was forged from the battles of the Revolutionary War. When asked if the newly born United States of America was a monarchy or a republic, it is said that Benjamin Franklin famously replied that it was “a republic, if you can keep it.”

WWI was not our country’s first war and there were those that came after. Hopefully, there will be no future wars for our country but given the nature of humanity, that is not likely. Hopefully, however, we can “keep” our republic as well as honor those who have gone before by participating to the fullest in our civic duties.

To all who have served our country, a debt of much gratitude is owed. Thank you for your service, veterans.

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