Monday, November 10, 2008

Lest We Forget

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.
— Lt.-Col. John McCrae

For a country with only 7 million people, Canada suffered great losses during World War 1. 67,000. Place names like Vimy Ridge, Ypres, and Passchendale are synonymous with sacrifice.

When WW2 broke out, Canada was expected to take responsibility for defending North America (!) but of course sent many soldiers to Europe and Asia as well. Dieppe, Normandy, Sicily, and Hong Kong are just a few of the places where more sacrifices were made.

The Korean Conflict was the next military action in which Canadians took part. With the Vietnam war, Canada was officially neutral, though the country continued trade with the US that enabled the war effort, probably engaged in espionage for the US, but also gave refuge to many draft dodgers. A number of Canadians enlisted with the US military, and over 100 were killed.

Today there are Canadians serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we continue to rack up the numbers of those who make the ultimate sacrifice.

I have had the fortune of meeting and knowing veterans of all these military conflicts. I have had the fortune of hearing previously untold stories about those military experiences. And every Remembrance Day I pause to think of the men and women who sacrificed their lives, their families, and their careers so that others could live in a democracy. I cry at the services I attend, the commercials I see on TV that remind us of the sacrifices, and the articles I read about the soldiers and their families. I also bawl like a baby when I hear the sounds of a bugle.

I have family members, living and passed on, who have participated in the military. I don't like the idea of anyone going to war but I understand. I understood when my great Uncle Willie said he was pissed off that his merchant mariner friends and compatriots were being torpedoed by U-boats in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I think I understand my cousin's reasoning behind not hunting, even though he was a crack shot for the Canadian army. I understand my friend's fear for her son when he was sent to the Middle East even though she raised him and her other children without toy weapons so as to foster a "peaceful life philosophy".

I understand there are people who think it is all right to hate someone for the colour of their skin, religion, sexual orientation, or their disability. I understand that there are some who do not believe in basic human rights for all people. I understand that had I lived during Hitler's time and in his country I might have been one of those sterilized or worse because of my MS.

I understand why countries feel they have to go to war. I will support those individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of those who are oppressed, though I may not support their government's policies. And I will continue with my efforts to fight oppression and inequality here at home by making my voice heard for those who can't speak.

Tomorrow as I stand at the Remembrance Day ceremony, probably bundled up from the cold, I will be thinking about all those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice and those that still are giving.


John McCrae was a Canadian physician serving during World War 1 when he wrote In Flanders Fields. He died in January 1918 from pneumonia.


Denver Refashionista said...

Beautiful poem. It is important to remember.

Merelyme said...

Thank you for this. My father was a veteran. He has long since passed away. It is a somber day but just seems a day for stores to have sales. Most people don't truly grasp what the day is about.

Here is my favorite poem along this theme:


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.

Carl Sandburg

Shauna said...

It is a beautiful poem, always bring tears to my eyes.

I'd not read that Sandburg poem before. More tears.....