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As we enter Memorial Day Weekend, it is right and proper to remember the ones who gave The Last Full Measure so that we might have a level of liberty and freedom never known in world history before our magnificent, glorious, truly exceptional Nation was born. What better way to remember and honor them than by recalling what has been called one of the greatest War Memorial Poems of all time, In Flanders Fields, written by Dr. John MacRae in 1915.
He and a young friend, Alexis Helmers, joined the 18,000 soldiers of the First Canadian Division near Ypres, Belgium, and it was during this battle that the Germans unleashed the first major poison gas attacks of the war. The interesting history of how the poem was born was described as follows:
On 2 May, Alexis Helmer was killed. Because the brigade chaplain was absent, McCrae—as the brigade doctor—conducted the burial service for his friend. Later, at Helmer’s grave, he wrote a few lines of verse that were the beginning of the poem “In Flanders Fields.”
Before the war, McCrae had written poetry in Canada, and some of his work had been published.
McCrae later sent a finished copy of his war poem to The Spectator magazine in London, where it was rejected. But a journalist who visited the hospital took a copy back to Punch magazine, which printed it—anonymously, without McCrae’s name—on 8 December 1915. Within months it became the most popular poem of the war. Its powerful use of the symbol of the poppies blooming from the churned earth led to the tradition, to this day, of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those killed in service.
As we remember the fallen and perhaps buy some poppies to help honor their sacrifices, it would be well to recall these haunting lines and remember that the torch is ours “to hold .. high” and to never “break faith with [those] who die…”
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.