Poems of Remembrance
The sentiment of our nation has changed greatly over the past 50 years. Back in 1960, I attended my first Veterans Day service. The Girl Scouts, my troop and others, marched in line with the Boy Scouts, the Fire and Police. We hung wreaths on street signs along the way to the old graveyard, which dating back to the Revolutionary War. The streets along the way were lined with people who clapped, taking off their hats and covering their hearts as the flag passed by. At some point, someone read a Veterans Day poem. I think it was, "Flanders Field." Everyone got red poppies to wear.
Then, the 70's hit, dividing our country and splintering families, communities and lives. For each advance we made during that time, we lost something, too. Assassinations became commonplace, war could be fought from the comfort of the couch, death tolls were the appetizers for evening meals.
Veterans Day was still celebrated. Sometimes, my Dad and only a few of his comrades were present to place wreaths and remember. The young men and women returning from Vietnam scarred and crippled in mind, body and soul, attended the gatherings, standing on the edges. Their faces bearing witness to their loss of innocence. If someone read a Veterans Day poem, I don't remember it. I do remember on one occasion someone played Taps on an old bugle. It echoed against the high stone walls of the old grave yard. Tears fell from the eyes of all those present.
During the 80's and 90's, I was an officer's wife. Veterans Day was observed on SAC bases (Strategic Air Command) with great pomp and circumstance. The "Missing Man" fly over left me weeping for days, as I remembered classmates that never made it home from the jungles of Vietnam. During these observances, speeches were made, medals given, and Veterans Day poems were read. But, this was to be expected on an Air Force Base. Off base, there was still a mixed bag of appreciation and scorn.
Now, however, it feels as if everyone has found a way to understand that the dedication of men and women to the service of their country is one of the greatest gifts a human can give. Also, there is more of an awareness that this day, set on the eleventh day of the eleventh month was originally created to celebrate the making of Peace, not war. It was a time to honor those who has struggled to bring Peace to the world.
I have a long history of military members in my family. My grandfather was in the Army during the WWI; my dad was in the Navy. Uncles from both sides of my family served. My brother followed our Dad's example and joined the Navy, serving on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean during 80's. My youngest daughter is married to a Navy corpsman.
This is history that has informed my understanding of the military and its members. This is the history that has created the blend of patriotism and peacemaking that brings me here today.
Lest others forget, we remember...the sacrifices, the dedication, the courage of those who lived before us. With gratitude, we remember.
VETERANS DAY POEMS
IN FLANDERS FIELD
John McCrae (1915)
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.
Linda M. Rhinehart Neas (1992)
The letters of your name
Are but a small portion of an alphabet
Of a million letters…
All etched neatly
On this polished rock.
There is no joy here…
But there is love.
It has permeated the ground
And wraps around those standing here
As they view the endless list of names
Whose faces are their own.
Walls will crumble.
Flowers left behind will wilt.
Photos will fade into yesterday.
Only the love lasts forever.
Carl Sandburg (1918)
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
from the Sonnet Sequence 1914 by Rupert Brooke (1915)
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
John Gillespie Magee (1940)
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
CROSSING THE BAR
Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.