In Flanders Fields

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.

In Flanders Fields was written by a Canadian battle surgeon, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D., during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915.  It was one of the most terrible, bloody, senseless battles in a terrible, bloody, senseless war, as poison gas drifted across the trench lines and tens of thousands of soldiers were killed or wounded during days of fighting.  The poem McCrae wrote captures the physical and emotional exhaustion he felt — yet still McCrae wanted others to fight to ensure that the dead did not die in vain.  McCrae ultimately died, of pneumonia, during the early days of 1918 as World War I dragged on with no apparent end in sight.

McCrae’s poem, and its duality, is worth remembering on this Memorial Day.  We cannot drop the torch, but we need to make sure that the torch is carried forward into battle only when our national security truly requires it.  We cannot afford to senselessly bury young men and women beneath Flanders Fields.

2 thoughts on “In Flanders Fields

  1. My grandfather, Marcel Eugene Duhamel, is buried in the American cemetery at St. James, on the border between Brittany and Normandy. He was drafted at the age of 30, with two daughters; he would not live to learn of my father’s birth. While he survived the landing on the beaches, he was killed outside of St. Lo shortly thereafter, roughly two weeks before my father was born. His Purple Heart sits in my bedroom. Visiting his grave was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.

    While there, I spoke to the superintendent of the cemetery, a Frenchman whose life has been spent caring for the grounds and shepherding the occasional visitor (this cemetery, unlike the ones right near the beaches, is well of the beaten path followed by most American tourists). Say what you will about whether the French should have been more supportive of our adventure in Iraq, or about the oft-asserted rudeness of Parisiens toward Americans, but the Frenchman I met that day was most certainly well aware of the enormous sacrifice a generation of Americans made in France in 1944.

    Thank you for posting the poem. It is heartrending, especially when one considers that it was written of a conflict that had been called the “War To End All Wars,” and yet the cemeteries of that war seem small and forgotten compared to the burial grounds of the one fought on the same soil a generation later.

    Like

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