Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day: Past and Present

The cruel horrors of warfare are too many to list. The grueling conditions that marked the first World War are memorialized on this day - a day which now is held in remembrance for all veterans of war. Reading some history of Armistice Day in 1918, I discovered some words and images to share.

An Act (52 Stat. 351; 5 U. S. Code, Sec. 87a) approved May 13, 1938, made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day." Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans." With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars." (via)

A Canadian physician, Lt. Colonel John McCrae, wrote a most memorable poem following the battle in Ypres in the Spring of 1915, titled "In Flanders Field". He writes of the enormous amount of red poppies visible across the landscape. Oddly, wild poppies will flower only when other plants in the area are dead, and on the day McRae composed his poem, the war had churned the earth so violently, that the deep red poppies were everywhere.

The poem almost never made it into public. He was unhappy with it, crumpled and tossed it away, but Lt. Colonel Edward Morrison retrieved it and sent it to the press. It was finally published in December of 1915. (More information about McCrae and his letters home to his mother, and much more history are here.and a variation on how it was kept and published is here.)

In Flanders Field

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.

Below, a photo of Canadian stretcher bearers in Flanders Field, 1915

Today U.S. soldiers and soldiers from around the world remain in harm's way, fighting fiercely in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the website, they have a series of powerful images of the war in Afghanistan taken during the month of October. In the image below, U.S. Air Force pararescuemen ride in the back of their medevac helicopter with the American flag-draped bodies of U.S. soldiers who were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan's Kandahar province on October 10th, 2010. The pararescuemen and pilots from the 46th and 26th Expeditionary Rescue Squadrons had responded to the attack which killed two American soldiers and wounded three others. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder) (click image to enlarge)

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