Remembrance Day, Poppy Day, Veterans Day - Remembering Our Fallen Heroes: Lest We Forget
November 11th - the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month - on this day, every year, men, women, and children around the world stand in silence to honor all who died in war - all who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their countries.
Whatever the name you call this day - Veterans' Day, Remembrance Day - and however you choose to commemorate that sacrifice - by parades, the laying of wreaths, a minute of silence, hymns, and somber ceremony - November 11th has become, for many of us, a day when we honor all our veterans. It has also become a day dedicated to the ideal that all wars shall one day cease.
In Europe, November 11th is remembered as Armistice Day, after the armistice, or the signing of the documents that proclaimed the end of "The Great War" (World War I). The armistice was signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month: 11 a.m. on November 11th, 1918.
Europeans commemorate this day as "Armistice Day", Americans as "Veterans Day", and citizens of the Commonwealth (Canada, Great Britain, Australia, etc.) as "Remembrance Day".
To some, it is known as "Poppy Day" after the flowers that grew in such profusion in the fields around Flanders, in northern Belgium, where many hundreds of the fallen were buried.
The poem "In Flanders Fields" was written by a Canadian physician, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, as he sat on the back of his ambulance at the battle front. One short day after he witnessed the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, McRae penned these lines:
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.
To wear a poppy is...
The poppy has become a symbol of the respect and gratitude we offer those who fought in foreign wars.
It is a sign that we stand together in remembrance of all those who have died in service of their countries.
When we wear the poppy, we honor all who served, and all who will never return to home and family.
We pledge that we will remember, and we pledge that their sacrifice will not have gone in vain, for part of that promise is that we shall "study war no more" - at least that is always the fervent hope.
When I see the inevitable children's choir on Parliament Hill, or on Capitol Hill, and I hear them singing the old military hymns, or yet another arrangement of McRae's beautiful poem, "In Flanders Fields " I wonder what goes through the children's minds.
Most of them are not old enough to have a parent who would remember the Korean War, also known as "a police action," let alone a mom or dad able to recall anything but the aftermath of World War II - a grandparent, perhaps.
I knew what I thought about...
My father served in WWII as a radio operator, in the bowels of a minesweeper off the Pacific coast. His brother served in the North Atlantic, on the convoys. Both of them survived. My mother's second cousin, Jackie, who served aboard submarines, was not so lucky.
I still remember my grandmother talking about rationing, pouring tea for sailors at the Red Cross, and knitting woolen socks for the submariners - "because their feet would get so terribly cold and wet, dear," she once explained to me.
My dad's father was gassed at Ypres, in the "Great War." He always had a terrible wracking cough, that grew much worse as he got older.
My mother's father was in the cavalry in both wars, and fought in some of the bloodiest arenas of both. I remember some of his surviving regimental buddies coming over on Vimy Day and re-fighting the battle of Vimy Ridge, loudly, and in great detail, over a bottle or two of McGinties Finest.
My grampa had a Sergeant-Major's vocabulary, to go with his stripes, but rarely let fly at home. Granny did not approve of "language." Vimy Day was one of the occasions she said nothing about "language" to him or his cronies, but merely shooed us kids away, to let the men "talk about things."
My father was a career man in the Royal Canadian Navy (now the Canadian Armed Forces). Older brothers, uncles, and cousins of the kids I grew up with served as Peace Keepers in arenas such as Cypress, which have mercifully long since passed into the history books.
We were all too familiar with the telegram delivered by the man from Base HQ. We knew people whose families had received them.
During the era of Vietnam, we watched a nation turn from honoring our service men and women to reviling them.
Those years were a time of upheaval north of the 49th as well. Those of us with ties to the military learned to keep our heads down, and be grateful for Canadian reticence.
We had proudly applauded as The Ed Sullivan Show featured Staff Sgt. Barry Saddler, singing "The Ballad of the Green Beret," yet a few short years later, we were "Going to San Fransisco" to push daisies into gun-barrels and weep as Treat Williams flew off to war in "Hair."
The pendulum of popular emotion swings one way and then back, and then starts the other way again. There is no all-right or all-wrong here. Both positions, both sides of the fence, are equally right and equally wrong.
Some Resources for Veterans
This page provides many useful resources for Canada's Veterans.
- Veterans Affairs
Veteran Affairs Canada provides exemplary, client-centred services and benefits that respond to the needs of veterans,
- Royal Canadian Legion
Canada's largest veterans', ex-service persons' and community service organization with more than 500000 members and more than 1600 branches in Canada, ...
- Disabled American Veterans
The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) is dedicated to building better lives for America's disabled veterans and their families.
- The American Legion: Veterans Serving Veterans
The American Legion is a mutual-aid veterans organization of the United States armed forces, chartered by Congress,
- Welcome to AMVETS - The Official Web site of AMVETS
On Veterans Day, we pay tribute to the millions of American veterans who throughout our great history placed their lives on the line for ...
I used to love to sing the hauntingly beautiful laments, and stirring paeans of Ireland's troubled past - "The Ballad of the Black and Tan ," "The Foggy Dew ," The Merry Plowboy ," "Four Green Fields " ...but there is no glory in death, only the pain of the dying, and the loss and longing of those left behind, no matter how poignant or brave a face the bards try to put upon it.
I have not ever, nor cannot imagine that I ever will support a war - any war, for I am an idealist. Life is precious, and I believe there are always other, better ways to resolve any issue than by killing so many of our brightest and best young people. I am, however, deeply indebted and grateful to those who put themselves in harm's way so that I can live in a country where I am allowed hold and live out such ideals.
On November 11th, at 11 a.m., we honor those who paid for our freedom with their lives. We stand at the cenotaph, and thank them for the great gift they gave us, and for the legacy of service and integrity they have bestowed upon those who will come after them.
"They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them ..."
Remembrance Day - The Last Post
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