Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 28, 2014

This past Monday was a special day of commemoration for my American friends, and it was good to see the out-pouring of emotion and gratitude for those who wear their country’s uniform.

In Canada, we don’t celebrate “Memorial Day” in May. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a day set aside to salute our veterans, because we do. It’s November 11th, “Remembrance Day”. The concept is the same, except we tend to have organized services and a lot of ritual. These take place at 11 a. m., and signify “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month”, the moment when the armistice took effect, a silencing of the guns before the actual end of the First World War.

Although there are differences between our two days of commemoration, the heart of them is the same. As a child in school, I, with my fellow students sported a “poppy” on my lapel, another bit of symbolism for Canadians. During the First World War, Canadian Army physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae penned a poem, “In Flanders Fields”. This is traditionally read during our Remembrance Day ceremonies, after the two minutes of silence—which we again observe at precisely 11 a.m., immediately following the bugling of “The Last Post.”

We Canadians, being members of the British Commonwealth, really do love our pomp and ceremonies and traditions.

And yet, while we follow all these prescribed rites and rituals, supposedly outward signs of an inward grace, I wonder if we’re not, all of us, really just deluding ourselves.

Because, while it’s good to remember, and to pay homage, and to say “thank you” to our veterans and current service members, I think we both—my country and our neighbors to the south—fall down on the very spirit of it all.

We need to treat our veterans, and our military service members, better. There should be no question about their rights to health care, housing, employment, or any other benefit one might hope for in a civilized society. There should be no such thing as a homeless veteran. Ever.

These men and women served us all, and put their lives on the line to protect our rights and our freedoms and yes, our very lives. It wasn’t you and I on the front lines getting our asses shot at. It was them, these brave and selfless heroes and heroines. Some of our soldiers gave the ultimate sacrifice, and some came home irrevocably changed—grievously mentally or physically wounded.

We have a sacred obligation to these men and women: and that obligation ought to be the first priority of our governments.

Governments declare war, institute drafts, and call for volunteers to fight those wars—that really, at the heart of it all, benefit those governments. When we promise those who serve that we will take care of them and then fail to do so it is as black a mark upon all our souls as there can ever be.

For while it is governments that declare war, they are our governments, democratically elected by us to represent we, the people. They do our will, and so in the end, it is we who bear the burden of responsibility.

Most people assume that the “foe” that Lt. Col. McCrae referred to in his poem only meant the enemy against whom we waged war at the time. But I wonder if perhaps that small word doesn’t have a much larger definition:

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’s stop negating our responsibility to our veterans and the members of our military and their families. Let’s choose to honor them every day, and not just one day of the year. Put pressure on your elected officials—and take action yourself:



1 comment:

  1. The American Legion I believe it is sells poppies for Veterans Day Nov 11 to honor the dead of all wars. It was originally known as Armistice Day. NPR does a whole day with programming about the Wars. The Dead of Flanders Field is read by a professional reader. There are Parades. One year a furniture company gave out two bumper stickers. One said, "Thanks to a Veteran." The other said, "You're Welcome from a Veteran." There is a laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

    One of the most solemn places I have ever visited is the American Cemetery in Normandy. I was on a tour to Paris and Normandy sponsored by my ship. Some of the group were loud and boisterous almost non stop. When they entered the cemetery not a word was spoken, no noise of any kind disturbed the silence. The headstones were much like those at Flanders Field.

    One year a local community in Virginia Beach held a parade complete with a bagpipe and drum band with men in kilts. One of the pipers was The Military Sealift recruiter who helped get me the job at MSC when I got out of the Navy. Another year a radio DJ walked from Washington, DC to a Vietnam memorial outside Oceana Naval Air Station. The last few miles were joined by Vietnam vets. I marched in that parade. At the end of the march an eternal flame was lit.