Our most solemn holiday
In the United States, the last Monday in May is Memorial Day, but it’s now become a “holiday” weekend. History.com calls it “America’s most solemn holiday.”
That’s a fitting title, since it commemorates 2 solemn events- the wars our country has fought and the men and women who died in military service for those wars.
And now, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend is observed as National Poppy Day.
I love the story of the poppies because it has a medical connection.
In the battlefields of Belgium during World War I, poppies grew wild amid the ravages of war. The overturned soils of battle covered the poppy seeds to, allowing them to grow and forever serve as a reminder of the bloodshed of war.
Out of this conflict came a poem, from which also came the association with poppies .
The now famous poem, In Flanders Fields, was written by a Canadian physician, Lt. Col. John McCrae.
Originally from Canada, Dr.McCrae was an English and math teacher, as well as a poet, before he attended medical school. He moved to England and was practicing there when World War I broke out, and he was called to serve as a brigade-surgeon.
I suspect that as a physician, he was deeply pained by treating the wounded, and the loss of those he could not save.
“In April 1915, McCrae was stationed in the trenches near Ypres, Belgium, in an area known as Flanders, during the bloody Second Battle of Ypres.
In the midst of the tragic warfare, McCrae’s friend, twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed by artillery fire and buried in a makeshift grave.
The following day, McCrae, after seeing the field of makeshift graves blooming with wild poppies, wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Field,” which would be the second to last poem he would ever write.”
(from John McCrae at poets.org)
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.
This poem is in the public domain.
Soon after writing “In Flanders Fields,” McCrae was transferred to a hospital in France, . Saddened and disillusioned by the war, McCrae found respite in writing letters and poetry, and wrote his final poem, “The Anxious Dead.”
In the summer of 1917, McCrae’s health took a turn, and he began suffering from severe asthma attacks and bronchitis. McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis on January 28, 1918.
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