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.
— LTC John McCrae
It’s another Veterans’ Day. For the first time in forever, I’ve actually had people thanking me for having served in the Army and seen combat – maybe because of the tragedy in Ft. Hood, maybe because we’re debating sending troops we really don’t have over to Afghanistan.
Regardless, my various inboxes are filled with thanks both general and specific. I’m surprised, I guess, for two reasons.
First, I’ve never been comfortable with being complimented – especially when it involves what I did as a job for seven years. I think we tend to put people that did what I did on pedestals, though I’ve since come to understand that that says more about them than it says about me.
Anyone can join the military – that’s the beauty of it. I was not an ideal recruit on some levels – I was massively out of shape – nor was I a spectacular soldier – I settled for less than my best on many occasions.
I did my time, and then decided that my time was over, and other women and men would take my place in the ranks. That’s also the beauty of a volunteer army – you do have the option to lay down the burden of your arms.
Second, I think over the years we’ve forgotten the original meaning of Veterans’ Day. To recapture it, you have to go back in time.
91 years, to be precise – to 11:11 AM, on November 11, 1918 – otherwise known as the day the guns of August 1914 finally fell silent, thus bringing World War I to an end.
From this temporal remove, it’s hard to imagine just how cataclysmic the War to End All Wars really was. People talk about the Korean War being a forgotten war – and it is! – but World War I is right up there. The horrors of that war haunted the imagination of millions.
That’s why, only a year later, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed an Armistice Day on the anniversary of the end of the war – and 19 years later, Congress passed an act naming November 11 “a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as ‘Armistice Day’.” That’s actually what it’s still called around the world – other countries know it as Remembrance Day.
It wasn’t until 1954 that Armistice Day became Veterans Day – mostly through the efforts of an Emporia, KS, shopkeeper named Al King, who believed that Armistice Day should honor all veterans, not just those who served in the First World War. Eisenhower signed the amended law.
As I pause to reflect on a day meant to honor the sacrifice and service of servicemembers greater than I, I can’t help thinking that something’s been lost in the spread of time and wisps of memory.
In America, we have separated the observances – we honor the dead on Memorial Day, and the living on Veterans Day. Yet, somehow, the commemoration seems somehow incomplete – mostly, I think, because it’s not so much a commemoration as a celebration.
After all, we treat Memorial Day not as a remembrance, but as a holiday kicking off summer. And to the degree we remember Veterans Day, it’s as an afterthought. Surely, we can do better.
That said – I’m grateful for the remarkable outpouring today in my inboxes. More than a Veterans Day, it’s been a Remembrance Day.
Thank you for remembering.