They laid him to rest two days after Christmas, 1996. My heels sunk in the mud that cold day in December. I never had the heart to clean those shoes. I left them just as they had been that day. The Black dress was never worn again. The Legionnaires were all mixed within the crowd. They were all from a time, when having served in the military was really a matter of respect. You could spot each and every one of them. Standing so proudly with their brightly colored hats adorning their heads like “Poppies from Flanders Field”. They had all lost a friend, a comrade, a past Post commander. I had lost my Grandfather. Frozen in my own pain, I stood around my family and braced myself as the neat white gloved salute proceeded.
My Grandfather had spent his adult life after the War helping and commanding and belonging to the American Legion. My Grandmother was always by his side, running and helping and presiding over the American Legion Auxiliary. This was rural America, post World War II. Unity and Pride were offered through the Legion. If you went to the War, you belonged there too. This was Americanism. Norman Rockwell-land. I remember the Poppies they sold each year. The paper Poppies with the shiny black bead in the middle and the florist wire and tape that held them together. I used to twist mine in between my palms and make it dance on the table of my hand. I never thought of any of the symbolism behind the poppy until recently. Reading about the poppies and their tradition has renewed my patriotism and respect for all of our ancestors that once stood in battle.
I have had a direct relative in every war and conflict since World War I. How could I not know what the Poppies meant? They played such strategic part of my life yet were only a fancy to a child. In Ypres, according to National Geographic in 2002, the people that live there remember the “War fallen” every day. Their “Last Post” bugle cries into the night at Twenty-Hundred Hours. That bugle has cried since 1928. The statue of stone, The Menin Gate, stands as an entry way. The Menin Gate was entry way into the last post, where over a quarter of a million soldiers from 20 different nationalities, would be called home, according to the “The Last Post Association”.
In no way am I saying that we as Americans are disrespectful to past wars or our war veterans. The War did not walk down our American streets until 2001. I think we are desensitized. We see it each day on the news. For instance we might see a news story that just says… “Five American troops were killed when an Insurgent opened fire in Bahrain”. That news story did not say that a young man named Jack Conner died in Bahrain today. There are so many killed in US conflicts anymore it has been easy to let it slip by in the newscast. There have been 10,468 coalition forces wounded or killed since 2001 in Operation Enduring Freedom according to iCasualties.org on April 8th 2011.
November 11th, has long been celebrated as the day of remembrance. Here in the United States we call it Veterans Day. In the UK and other parts of the world it is named “Armistice Day” Armistice” means a cessation of hostilities as a prelude to peace negotiations. There have not been any long cessations of hostilities in almost 100 years, at least not for the Americans. Our soldiers have been involved in conflict, after war, after conflict. The red poppies have long stood as a symbol of the terrible volumes of blood loss during war conflicts, as they were quick to grow in the fields that saw so much loss of life. On the first observance of Armistice Day President Wilson addressed the nation and said: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” Although I have been so fortunate as not to lose any family members to war, I saw my Grandfather give the rest of his life, to helping America remember. If we could only get back to where having been in the military was really a matter of respect. If we could only as a nation remember. So today I will buy a Poppy in your honor Grandpa. I will share with my children the meaning of the poppy and the meaning of the Day of Remembrance. Today, the torch is mine to hold high, because “In Flanders fields the poppies still blow, between the crosses, row on row” ~ Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD.
A Special Thanks to my friend Cat for the image above.. Please see more of her work at http://thrucatzeyes.blogspot.com/