By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
“In Flander’s Field the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row”—thus wrote Lt. Col. John McCrea shortly after performing the burial service of a friend.
Alexis Helmer had been killed on May 2, 1915 during the second battle of Ypres, located in the Flander’s Region of Belgium. During the service, Lt. Col. McCrea noted how quickly poppies had grown around the graves of those who had recently died.
His grief, expressed through his poem, went on to become the most popular poem of the era.
Following the end of World War I, a professor from the University of Georgia, Moina Michael, affectionately known as the “Poppy Lady,” vowed to always wear a red poppy, symbolizing remembrance of those who had died in the First World War.
During her tenure at the university she ended up teaching a class of disabled war veterans. Michael realized that there was a need for financial and occupational support to reintroduce these men back into society. She came up with the idea of selling silk poppies to help raise funds for these disabled veterans.
In 1920 during an American Legion Conference, Miss Michael was able to persuade the American Legion Auxiliary to adopt the selling of poppies so that needy veterans could be provided help. At this conference was Anna E. Guerin, a French woman, who became so overwhelmed by the idea she contacted British Field Marshal Douglas Hague. Hague, the founder of the Royal British Legion, adopted the poppy as a way to honor the English dead.
Its popularity subsequently spread to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Poppies are worn during November to commemorate Armistice Day or Remembrance Day throughout the British Commonwealth. In the United States, the poppies are worn on Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day to remember the sacrifices of those who gave their life for their country.
This year, Monday, November 12, 2012, has been designated this year’s official celebration of Veterans’ Day/Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I on November 11, 1919.
Known as “The War to End all Wars,” it served as a living, breathing testament of man’s inhumanity to man. The Somme, Belleau Wood, Ypres, The Marne, Arris and Chateau Thierry are battles that inflicted slaughter and carnage upon millions of soldiers, battles deeply etched in the minds of those living in that era, but are lost to the people of today.
Those who died were the lucky ones. They remained forever young, their suffering ended. Far too many returned a shell of what they had once been. Missing arms, legs and sustaining grotesque facial wounds as they returned to daily society, they became a visible reminder to all of the horrors of war.
Many were shut up in institutions away from public view, some as a result of mustard gas, others suffering the uncontrollable shaking and disorientation of shell shock—known today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Since then, subsequent wars have produced the same results upon those fighting them.
On Monday, November 12, 2012, will you remember their sacrifices or forget it because of a busy schedule? I would hope that everyone would reflect upon the sacrifices made by all who have worn an American uniform—a uniform that allows you to go about living your life with unfettered freedom.
Their sacrifice underscores a phrase: Freedom is not free.
Saturday, November 10 marks the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Happy Birthday and Semper Fi to all those who served in or are currently serving in our beloved Corps.