Memorial Day means different things to different people. Picnics, sales, parades and three day weekends, are all symbols of Memorial Day. However we should also remember our soldiers and veterans during the festivities. I have to admit I get Memorial Day and Veterans Day mixed up sometimes. But they’re really not so different. Veterans Day honors those, both living and dead, that have given service to their country by serving in a branch of the military. Memorial Day honors those who died while in the service of their country. When I was a child I can remember veterans giving out red poppies on Memorial Day in honor of those that had paid the ultimate price. They gave up their lives so we could continue to live in a free nation. Occasionally they would also give out a copy of the poem, “In Flanders Fields” This is the first stanza of the poem.
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.
I grew up in a military family. When we lived at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, we often drove by the Clark Veterans Cemetery. It contains 8592 graves, some dating back to the Spanish American War. Each grave is marked with a small white cross, each perfectly aligned with the other. They are literally crosses, row on row. Many of the graves contain the remains of unknown soldiers. Whenever I read “In Flanders Fields”, I think about this cemetery.
I also remember the parades on base honoring the fallen veterans. Row after row of soldiers, in their best dress uniforms, standing silent and still while The National Anthem was played. A few would stand too straight and faint. No one moved to help them until The Anthem was finished. The focus at that moment was on our flag and what it symbolized, a free nation, indivisible, and strong. The ones that fainted would rise to march again. The dead would not. I have a lot of other memories too. Memories that most children never have the chance to experience. Classmates called out to the principal’s office because their dads would not be coming home to them again. A plane, full of families that were coming to join their military moms or dads, that crashed on arrival to the runway at Clark AFB, killing them all. In my opinion Memorial Day is for them also. They gave up their lives. I remember getting in a fight with a non-military kid once after he called my dad a baby killer. I had just finished proudly telling my class that my dad was in Viet Nam. For the record, I won and he never put my dad down again. At least not around me.
When I was a Girl Scout in the Philippines we went on a field trip. Not an unusual thing for a troop to do but our trip was a little different. We hiked part of the trail famous for The Bataan Death March. 76,000 Americans and Filipinos were persecuted during this event. No one is really sure how many of them died but I’m sure it was high. We didn’t talk to each other much during that trip. We had studied the march and knew how horrendous it had been. You could almost feel the spirits of those involved, prodding us to never forget them and the causes they fought for. It must have worked because I’ll never forget.
We still have veterans giving up their lives for our country. I cry when I see flag draped coffins on the news. But, I never ask why. As long as there are evil people in the world threatening our freedoms and rights there will, unfortunately, be veterans that we will honor on Memorial Day. I also think it’s important to remember the first veterans. The ones who fought for our independence and who made the laws to ensure our rights would continue throughout history.
I’m proud to be an American. I love our country. On this Memorial Day I will honor those who loved our country enough to fight and die for it. I’ll put out my American flag, watch the president put a wreath on the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier, and I’ll wonder who they were. I’ll remember the times I’ve visited Arlington National Cemetery, marveling at how many graves are there and the fact they all served our country. And, even though Memorial Day is for the fallen, I’ll say a prayer for those still fighting. I’ll pray they come home safely to their families and live a long and wonderful life.
Because I think it’s important, this is the rest of the poem, “In Flanders Fields”.
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.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Clark Veterans Cemetery you can find it online at www.cvcra.org. Stay strong America. Thank you to all our veterans. May the fallen rest in peace knowing they truly fought the good fight.