Memorial Day is one of my favorite holidays. As a child it was just a holiday to kick off the beginning of summer. But as I have gotten older the real meaning of Memorial Day has really settled in my heart.
I like to think I have always had a patriotic heart, if you will. But while I knew it was about the fallen soldiers, I failed to connect the dots to real people. But it was through the help of my grandfather that it became more than just a day – it became about people.
In grade school I learned the poem, In Flanders Field by John McCrae. Then, as a young teen, on one of my grandparents visits, my grandfather asked us if we knew the poem, In Flanders Fields. I immediately nodded yes and began rattling off the words. But then he stopped me and said that as a boy he was too was taught the poem and that they would recite it with meaning to the words. He then proceeded to recite it with respect and meaning to each word.
It was not until many years later that I realized, my grandfather was just a boy after World War One. That if he didn’t personally know of older relatives and friends that had died in the war, he had definitely heard of them from his parents.
Saying the poem was not just words but held names and faces.
The older my grandfather got the more he would dwell on World War II. He was a young man then, eager to serve his country. At the college that he went to – to study agriculture, he also completed all of the ground training to be a pilot. I remember him showing me pictures of the shadows of the planes and even though so many years had passed he was able to tell me them all.
However, when he went to join up as a pilot, he failed his physical because of a fallen arch he had gotten as a child in a haying accident. I know that it still bothered him he was not able to go and fight with his friends. One of the first Canadian pilots shot down by enemy troops was his first cousin. Someone he knew. He said, “So many went away… (his voice broke) …and didn’t come back.”
As I said earlier, I memorized the poem In Flanders Fields. It talks about the poppies that stand row on row. It was not until I was older that I realized just how many poppies grow in that field and just how many soldiers died there. Hundreds of Americans died there, but thousands of soldiers died in those fields.
And recently, via a Memorial Day broadcast, I was reminded that this number represented dads, moms, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and friends. But the thought that really got me was that generations of young people grew up without a parent. And my heart is humbled that they would love my country and its freedoms so deeply, that they would be willing to give up seeing their family again. Knowing that it meant missing out on the memories and milestones that their children would have to face alone.
Today I pause to remember the fallen soldiers of days and years passed.
I am so grateful for their sacrifice.
The symbol of the poppy definitely has more meaning for me now. I remember the first time I took my daughter and we bought a poppy from a veteran. As I explained to her what the flower meant… the words of my grandfather echoed back to me…
In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae
In Flanders field the
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; 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.
Among my grandmothers things that I received when she passed, was a poppy that she had bought to remember the fallen. It is one of my most cherished possessions. Yes, it is just one of those cheap little poppies, but the meaning and what it stands for makes it priceless.
Today I pause to remember the fallen soldiers of days and years passed. I am so grateful for your sacrifice.