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.
This poem – although it was written by a Canadian soldier and physician John McCrae and has become a symbol for the Canadian Holiday Remembrance Day, is a beautifully written and moving tribute to those who have given their lives for their country – and very fitting for Memorial Day. I memorised “In Flanders Fields” in the 5th grade – and it has stuck with me ever since. It was a favorite of my Dad’s – a pilot in World War II – and, I am sure, of many veterans.
On this Memorial Day – as members of the Armed Forces continue to lose their lives in Iraq – there may be questions of the best way to honor those who have died serving their country and those who continue to serve – but who at any moment may give their lives. This is an important issue for me – just as it is for so many others. I personally have known many who have served – from my Dad and so many of his friends and others I know who served in World War II – to members of my church and friends who served in the Korean War – to my brother in law (Rob’s dad) and so many others I know who served in Viet Nam – to friends and sons and daughters of friends who have served or are now serving in Iraq.
One way is to support the active troops themselves and their families – regardless of how we feel about war – particularly the war in Iraq – itself. As Jim Wallis of Sojourners wrote in a recent issue of SojoMail:
Even those of us who advocate nonviolence must recognize the humanity of those who, for many reasons, made the hard choice to join the armed forces. As we protest a war and an occupation that has claimed as many as 100,000 Iraqi civilians’ lives, we must have compassion for the suffering experienced on all sides.
The human tragedy of war is great. Look at the figures Wallis quotes in his article:
Well over 1 million soldiers have served in Afghanistan and Iraq since September 11, 2001, according to the Pentagon. A full third of those million have served more than once. In addition to the 1,600-plus soldiers who have been killed in Iraq, more than 12,000 troops have been wounded and needed to seek medical treatment. Soldiers who have suffered psychologically are more difficult to count – and often more difficult to treat
If you know families of active military, reserves, or National Guard currently serving in Iraq – let them know you are there for them and want to help them. If you know anyone who has served and is now home, let him or her know of your appreciation and take time to listen to him or her.
Wallis’ article continues to raise the problems of vets who return home after serving. You can read Wallis’ article here.
Being available to help and support active troops and their families is one way to honor those who have died. It is one way of celebrating Memorial Day. Remembering those who have died in prayer is another way – as is praying for those who continue to serve.
On this Memorial Day I offer the following prayer from my tradition – the Presbyterian Church (USA). This prayer is part of our Book of Common Worship:
Righteous God, you rule the nations.
Guard brave men and women
who risk themselves in battle for their country.
Give them compassion for enemies
who also fight for patriotic causes.
Keep our sons and daughters from hate that hardens,
or from scorekeeping with human lives.
Though they must be at war,
let them live for peace, as eager for agreement as for victory.
Encourage them as they encourage one another,
and never let hard duty separate them
from loyalty to your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Until next time – Peace! Bill