I saw a woman in the grocery store on Friday, and she had pinned in her hair one of those small, artificial, red poppies traditionally distributed by war veterans for Memorial Day.
I hadn’t seen one for years. They were very common when I was young, but over the years, they seemed to disappear as we Americans grew more blasé about war casualties.
I couldn’t resist. I excused myself and asked her where she had gotten it.
She told me the veterans were outside the store in the parking area. I looked, but by the time I did, they were gone.
I’m sorry I missed them. I would have loved to have one of those tiny, mundane flowers of crepe paper and twine.
Not because of their artistic beauty but because of what they represent.
Memorial Day is the day we remember and honor the men and women who fought in wars for our freedom. They were people who wore the uniform of our country and who were killed in the effort to rid the world of the evils of totalitarianism and despotic governments.
They, along with the war dead of our allies in Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are remembered on this day. But so too are the war dead in the countries we fought to free – France, Italy, Germany and most of Europe as well as those nations in the Pacific.
The poppies were first noted as the symbol of the bloodshed during World War I and were immortalized in the poem written by John McCrae in May of 1915 – 99 years ago this month.
He wrote of the red poppies growing in the bloody fields of war, particularly in Belgium, France and Gallipoli.
Schoolchildren used to memorize the lines.
It was a poem to remember and honor the dead, but it was also a promise to them that we would never forget their sacrifice, we would never forget they were human beings just like us and that we vow to fight as diligently to preserve the freedoms they won for us, as they did to gain them.
It’s a beautiful thought and a noble goal, but the question today is: Do we even care?
Americans have become blasé about everything. We take our rights and freedoms for granted and seem more and more willing to negotiate them away and often just give them away as though freedom is limitless.
But that’s not true. Freedoms only exist when there is a tacit agreement among people to acknowledge them and do all possible to maintain them.
How would we explain to our war dead – and yes, today, including the living veterans of the horrors of wars we have engaged in and in fact, are still fighting – how would we explain that we’ve taken their sacrifices for granted?
Yes, people feel noble when they wear yellow ribbons or talk about memorials or hang a flag outside of their home, but I believe we really forget the living, breathing people that statistics represent: More than a 1.3 million Americans killed in our wars and hundreds of thousands wounded. It’s too easy to forget that every one of those casualties affects scores of family members as well as communities.
I’m not against war. There are times when only military efforts can put an end to attacks on our freedoms and way of life.
That’s a fact of life, like it or not.
But what’s equally important is to honor the lives of those who sacrificed for us and to protect the liberties they insured.
When we have politicians who are all too eager to put themselves and their party first and undermine the welfare of the people and the Constitution, we have betrayed the trust of our war dead.
When we are eager to ignore or break laws to allow our country to be invaded across our deliberately porous borders, we have betrayed the trust of our war dead.
When we allow politicians to cover-up the truth about an attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi killing four Americans, including our ambassador, or the truth about a government-sponsored gun running operation to benefit Mexican drug cartels, or allow law enforcement and municipalities to ignore federal immigration law, or ignore that Americans are held in foreign prisons on specious charges and offer no help, or clear government collusion against citizens who just disagree with it, or mistreatment of veterans who are medically suffering – I could go on and on.
It appears our government today is not working for the welfare of American citizens or for American independence and freedom.
If there is even a smidgen of truth in that, then we are duplicitous frauds and, unless we change, we should eliminate Memorial Day from our calendar. It only provides an excuse for a long weekend, trips, picnics, ball games and beer.
Just in case you’ve forgotten, these words are critical:
“In Flanders Fields”
By John McCrae
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.
We have broken faith with them. We’ve forgotten them, and they’re not sleeping. Their deaths should haunt us forever.
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