Memorial Day was first observed in 1866 in Waterloo, New York. The day honors the war dead of our nation and is observed by the decorating of the graves of these men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom.
As many gather with family members and loved ones for a long weekend, I would remind us to be mindful of those who grieve the loss of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, grandsons and granddaughters who lost their lives in service to our country. So many families have had their lives forever changed over the last two decades in the seemingly on-going conflicts occurring around the world. Many others recall the pain from years earlier, having lost loved ones in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.
I have always loved the poem, In Flanders Field, by Colonel John McCrae. It is perhaps the most famous war memorial poem. On May 2, 1915, John McCrae’s close friend and former student Alexis Helmer was killed by a German shell. That evening, in the absence of a chaplain, John McCrae recited from memory a few passages from the Church of England’s “Order of the Burial of the Dead”. For security reasons Helmer’s burial in Essex Farm Cemetery was performed in complete darkness.
The next day, May 3, 1915, Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson was delivering mail. McCrae was sitting at the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the YserCanal, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, Belgium.
As John McCrae was writing his In Flanders Fields poem, Allinson silently watched and later recalled, “His face was very tired but calm as he wrote. He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.” Within moments, McCrae had completed In Flanders Fields.
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.
Let us be ever mindful of those who gave their lives for us all. May we draw close to those they have left behind that we might somehow ease their suffering, share in their sorrow, and honor the memories of those they miss sorely and still love dearly.
Blessings and peace,