I wanted to write a Memorial Day column for today, but as it was coalescing in my mind, I kept hearing the refrain, “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow …”
In former days, wearing poppies on Veterans Day was common, even customary. That’s because Veterans Day was originally November 11, commemorating the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. “In Flanders Fields” is categorically a World War I poem, but not one that celebrates the service of all veterans. It specifically honors the dead.
We have an older holiday specifically intended for remembering those who have sacrificed all, and this is it. The first Memorial Day (then called Decoration Day) was on May 1, 1865, observed by liberated slaves at a former Confederate prisoner of war camp and mass grave in Charleston, SC—it moved to the end of the month the following year, and was designated as May 30 from 1868 until 1971, when it moved to the last Monday in May—and was intended to provide a day of reverent reflection on the deeds of those who fell during the American Civil War in salvation of the Union. As early as 1866, though, the Confederate dead began to be included as proper subjects for remembrance. And as more soldiers and sailors gave their lives in subsequent wars, it came to pass that all the souls lost to the horror of war are now celebrated.
Maybe the poppies are out of season. But it seems to me that young Dr. McCrae’s poem speaks as clearly in May as in November. McCrae was a Canadian. As if that matters. So rather than write something completely ineffectual and second rate, I yield the floor to him.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
by John McCrae
- n 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.
e are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
ake 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.