In Flanders Fields

I ran into two old Marines yesterday, handing out red poppies for a donation to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. We talked for a few minutes, as I love to do with veterans, and they told me I was the first person in hours who’d known what the poppies represent.

It’s sad, really, but it’s the price we Americans pay for turning all our commemorative holidays into generic three-day weekends. More BBQ and beer, less appreciation.

In case you don’t know, there was a horrific series of battles on and around a Belgian plain during the First World War. Red poppies grow there naturally in abundance, creating the look of a field of blood where the fighting and death had taken place. This poem, which captures the spirit of the dead, was written soon after the first fighting there.

In Flanders Fields

by John McCrae, May 1915

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.

And that is what Memorial Day and the red poppies handed out by aging veterans commemorate.

9 thoughts on “In Flanders Fields

  1. In the UK we still remember with poppies. It’s.a pretty big deal. I like to think people remember what they mean…..

    1. Thanks for your comment, Andy. I believe the poppy is still used there (in the UK) as a symbol of support for deployed troops. I wish we in the US had better connection to that history.

  2. An eternal thank you to all the soldiers who have sacrificed their lives so that we can live in a better world, I for one remember it always and all my family also do…. when I was a Little girl , born in Liverpool in 1942 there was hardly a house in my neighbourhood who had not lost a Father, a brother , a son I will never forget that, and in honour of all these men we must keep Commemoration Day alive…….Thank You from the bottom of my heart!

  3. I don’t pass by the red paper poppies passed out by beloved veterans, always leaving even a small donation and stopping to chat. I have that poem memorized out of love for my country and the brave men and women who have died to keep her free. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We need to ensure that we pass on the respect for our patriots and the utmost need for vigilance against both inner and outer foes who would take that freedom from us to future generations.

  4. >Red poppies grow there naturally in abundance

    The poppies spring up where the earth is overturned — thus Lieutenant-Colonel McCrae’s reference to them blowing/growing between the rows of crosses.

    >I believe the poppy is still used there (in the UK) as a symbol of support for deployed troops.

    Yes, although the primary connection is still to the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…

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