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Tag Archive: Flanders fields

May 30

Decoration Day conjures up thoughts of Flanders fields and poppies .

(From my archived columns, first published on June 3, 2006, in The Examiner. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)

poppy-field-wet-150x150

“Decoration Day” was what we Baby Boomers called Memorial Day when we were growing up, and it was always observed on May 30.

It is very likely that anyone born since 1971 would not know the term “Decoration Day” because Congress changed that when it created the National Holiday Act of 1971.

The three-day holiday weekends, Memorial Day and Labor Day, were born with the Act.  It made good sense for employers, gave folks two three-day national holidays per year, and created an opportunity for family time, travel, and entertainment.

However, one of the these holidays, Memorial Day, seems to have lost some of its meaning in the process.

Now, Memorial Day is more likely associated with the official beginning of summer travel, baseball games, barbecues, and trips to the lake.

And do we not love Memorial Day weekend for all those reasons!

I surely do.

Originally, however, Decoration Day was none of those things, and I can only hope its true meaning is not lost on future generations.

Decoration Day was a time to remember those who died in our nation’s service. Eventually, the holiday grew to be a time to honor all our dead as well.

In that simpler time when there was no urgent need for travel, entertainment or three-day weekends, we set out to decorate the graves of our departed relatives, honored fallen soldiers, and paid tribute to our ancestors on the same day every year, May 30.

Bouquets of iris, poppies, peonies and spirea were lovingly gathered and arranged early in the morning before we set out to visit the cemeteries.

There was no rush to discount stores to buy plastic flowers or sprays for the tombstones then. Instead, we simply went into our back yards and picked our own flowers, arranged them in coffee cans wrapped with foil, and carried them carefully in the car as we drove to the cemeteries. Usually, we visited two or three cemeteries because one would not want to neglect the departed great-grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Nevertheless, the overriding emphasis of Decoration Day was on soldiers lost in battle.

Local VFW and American Legion posts and their auxiliaries offered special programs on each May 30 to remember the servicemen who died for their country.

Churches had memorial services, and school children colored mimeographed pictures of the American flag in a special effort to remember those lost in war.

We sang “God Bless America” with never an inkling of the need for political correctness.

The National Anthem was sung at Decoration Day services, the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and no one objected.

May 30 was a reverent day that made us reflect and appreciate those who had gone before us and who had died in our service.

No one explained this better than Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian veteran of World War I, who wrote a poem in 1915 entitled “In Flanders Fields.”  His famous poem describes the bright red flowers that bloomed between the rows of white crosses that marked the graves of the war dead in Belgium. Those bright red flowers, poppies, were soon known throughout the Allied world as the “flower of the fallen”, sometimes, “the flower of remembrance”.

Colonel McCrae’s poem had a deep affect on a young French woman named Anna Guerin. She created the idea of selling artificial poppies to help orphans and others left behind in the aftermath of World War I.

By 1920, the VFW had started selling its own “Buddy Poppy”, a paper lapel flower, to celebrate the fallen and help disabled veterans.

Although I have no live poppies in my yard to gather for the graves of loved ones anymore, I will never forget the reverent and simple pleasure of picking them on Decoration Days gone by.

And no words convey the meaning of the symbolic blood-red poppy better than the Colonel’s noted poem.

Lest we forget to honor those who died for their country, here is that memorable poem of 1915 to keep the meaning of “Decoration Day” fresh in our hearts and minds.

In Flanders Fields

By Colonel John McCrae

            “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row, that marks 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 field.”