Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders Fields
--Lt. Col. John McCrae, M.D. (1872-1918)
Royal Canadian Army

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.
It is now the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, at Compiegne...

First, today is Veterans Day

In America, Memorial Day is for the dead, and Veterans Day is for the living. As such, first I wish to give thanks.

I thank all of you, still serving to defend out country; and those of our friends and allies; and those who are fighting to preserve freedom, liberty, justice, and humanity.

Thank you cousin Jesse (USN, '97 - present, UDT, BM1) - Only one thing he ever wanted in life, to be a SEAL. He got his wish, and he's off god knows where doing god knows what; and couldn't be happier.

Thank you cousin Johnathan (USN 2001 - present, AC1C) - dropped out of college after 9/11 to join the Navy, because in his own words, it was the right thing to do for his country.

Thank you cousin Robert (USAF 2004 - present, A1C, CCT) - Followed his brother down to Jax, and at 25, decided to follow me into the Air Force instead.

May god bless you and keep you.

I thank all of you who have served in the past; for the risks you have taken, and the sacrifices you have made.

Thank you Dad (USA '66-'74 SFC) - a 15 year old Irish immigrant with a forged birth certificate; grew up on the streets, but became both a citizen, and a man in the Army. Almost 9 years in, almost all of it in SF, and almost all of that in SEA. By the end he was broken, and he only recently put himself together again. I love you dad.

Thank you uncle Patrick (USN '68-72 GM3) - My fathers brother, who spent most of those years sending steel over the coast of VN.

Thank you uncle Brian (USMC, '79-87 SSgt. USANG '88-92 SFC) - My mothers brother, who fought the war we pretended didn't happen in the phillipines, and then again in the gulf.

Thank you Ben (USA '97 - 2001, Cpl, Inf, Rgr, 3rdBt. 75th rgt.) - Lead the way, then lead his family.

Thank you John, Troy, Tony and Z; Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman respectively.

It was almost fifteen years ago that I first put on my countries uniform, and seven years ago I last took it off. Every day I miss it.

Second, today is Remembrance Day (sometimes known as Armistice day):

This day, we celebrate the moment that the first great war of the last century was ended; in the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, of the year of our lord nineteen hundred and eighteen.

On this day I also give thanks; for those who laid down their lives, and for those who lived; to keep Europe free.

90 years gone, and still every year we mark this day (though in America we reserve Memorial day for our dead, from all wars).

Remembrance day though; it still means something here as Armistice day; and it most certainly still means something around the world.. for now; for as long as the people remember... which I hope shall be always, but I fear shall be for not much longer.

Why is it called poppy day?

Britain, France, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Russia... and on the other side Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary (and the remains of the holy roman empire), Turkey (and the other ottomans)... an entire generation of young men in Europe were lost to the most futile, worst run war, in modern history.

In four years, 18 million men died (or went missing, which is mostly the same thing), and 22 million men were wounded.

In fact, Europe has never recovered from this greatest of historical mistakes. It was the direct aftermath of world war one that lead to world war two; which created the postmodern European culture that is slowly being destroyed from without and within by self hatred, depression, defeatism, socialism, and Islamic fascism...

But I digress; I was talking about why it is called poppy day.

Flanders is a region of Belgium; where the fighting in the great war was at it's worst, along with Wallonia, and northern France. The worst battles of the war were at Ypres, the Marne, the Somme, and Verdun.

At the Somme alone, the British lost 20,000 dead in one single day; and the allied forces (mostly British) lost 120,000 dead, and over 375,000 wounded total; with 100,000 dead and 350,000 wounded on the German side. The battle lasted from July 1st , til November 18th, 1916. Almost five solid months of the most brutal trench warfare ever seen; and nothing to show for it but blood, and mud.

Perhaps 200,000 total dead at the Marne (1st and 2nd), perhaps 50,000 at Ypres, Perhaps 300,000 total dead at Verdun... (10 months, and the bloodiest battle of the war, though The Somme had the bloodiest day); and nothing to show for it but blood and mud.

There was an amazing thing though; that blood, and that mud... it became magnificently fertile soil; and soon after the fighting ended, all over these horrific battlefields, poppies began to bloom.

In the first great war, as had been tradition for most of western history; those killed in battle were buried in the fields where they fell. Their memorials were raised there; a tribute to those who fought and died, and a reminder to those who did not.

And there, in Flanders and Wallonia, and in France, and in Luxembourg; there lay an entire generation of men. Millions upon millions of white crosses, millions upon millions of unmarked graves in farmers fields; surrounded by millions upon millions of poppies.

A symbol of life, of blood, of the fight for liberty and freedom. The poppies among those men who died were taken up; first by the French and the Belgians, then the Canadians and British and Americans.

Today, the poppy is a symbol of remembrance.

Finally, today is my anniversary.

I said above that I miss serving. I miss the people I served with, and the sense of mission, and of accomplishment; but... today is my anniversary, and it would not be if I had not changed my course. I don't regret what has brought me here. I love my wife, and my children more than I can possibly imagine; or possibly express to you.

Mel, I love you.