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It’s our duty to appreciate all who have served

Editor’s note: This column was first published on Nov. 11, 2010, in the OBSERVER.

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily demands of life — errands, appointments, meetings, shopping — each day throughout each week lasting each month all the year through. But there are two times each year, we, as Americans, should hit the brakes, turn off the cell phones, shut down the televisions, unplug the computers for at least a few moments.

One day is in late May, and the other is today, Veterans Day.

I hope you are wondering why I would propose this idea because I have a solid answer for you. My reason, though, isn’t really mine.

The credit goes to Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician in the Canadian Army, who died in 1918. His poem, “In Flanders Fields” is the basis for the wearing of red poppies to honor our fallen soldiers. Although written about a specific World War I battle in Belgium, veterans around the globe honor this poem as capturing the true meaning of this revered day.

The first stanza of the poem takes us directly to a cemetery, similar to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., showing us how “the poppies blow between the crosses row on row … while the second stanza lets the voices of fallen soldiers be heard. “Short days ago we lived … and now we lie in Flanders Fields” shows readers the unpredictability, the suddenness, the uncertainty that marches along with our troops.

But it’s the last stanza that calls us to action by urging us — all of us — to grab the torch as dying soldiers fall and “to hold it high.” The final lines even provide a warning: “If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders Fields.” In other words, even though life goes on — babies grow, seasons change, flowers bloom — we will dishonor our veterans if we don’t recognize and remember the sacrifices they have made for our freedoms.

The red poppy symbolizes our duty to remember, reflect and respect those who died for our gift of freedom — each day throughout each week lasting each month all the year through.

“In Flanders Fields”

By 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.

Catherine D’Agostino is an OBSERVER contributor.

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