We all celebrate Veterans Day in different ways. Some of us work, taking time out to pause for reflection during the day, thinking about all the men and women we know that served. Some get the day off to watch the tributes on television in and amongst our “day off” chores. Some veterans are, unfortunately, too busy finding money for food and shelter to pay much attention to this particular day.
Yesterday I swung by a local hotel where they were taking donations for a “shoe drive” for veterans, collecting shoes, clothing, blankets for veterans and their families. I had thought that they were simply collecting the items, so I was a bit surprised to see the parking lot full when I stopped in to drop off my donation. “How many people can be here at once?” I wondered to myself. “Why is everyone dropping off their donations at the same time?” When I went inside, however, my questions were answered. There were entire families there, going through the clothing, finding what they needed. They weren’t donating, they were accepting. One man walked past clutching his framed Honorable Discharge in one hand as proof of his service, asking if there were any shoes left. A quick glance down showed a pair of battered tennis shoes the only barrier between his toes and the snow outside. A 25-year-old man with a 45-year-old face led three children down the hall, saying “We’ll see, honey. I hope they have a coat for you…” He wore a camouflage jacket with one simple decoration pinned on his collar — the red-black-gold-black-red of the Iraq campaign. “Maybe even some shoes for your brother, too.”
Veterans Day wasn’t always Veterans Day. It started out as Armistice Day, commemorating the end of WWI, the war to end all wars. It was meant to be celebrated at the time peace rang out over Europe and America — the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was when the peace agreement was signed. We’re steadily approaching the centennial anniversary of the event — 2018 will be the 100th anniversary of peace. That’s not so long away in the scheme of things. Veterans Day was a celebration of peace until the mid 1950s, when it changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day and took on a slightly somber meaning. In addition to remembering the victory of WWI and the bravery of America’s veterans, many people started remembering veterans past. Today Veterans Day is largely a thing that’s noticed on the morning news, mentioned somberly by the radio personality between songs… Oft confused for Memorial Day by most people, forgotten November 12th.
But it means something to us — we who are aware of what it means to “raise your right hand and repeat after me…” We who remember that to raise your right hand in oath means that you agree to give our nation any amount of… of whatever we can give… from now until our time is up, one way or the other. We who remember our fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles that went before us and showed us how it’s supposed to be done, who taught us what it means to put the flag out every morning. We who remember those who came back, and those who didn’t.
This was written nearly a hundred years ago about a battleground: 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
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.— Lt.-Col. John McCrae