The “Greatest Generation” never had it easy. Often growing up as the children of immigrants, or as immigrants themselves; surviving the hard times of the Great Depression, then only to be thrown into the calamity and chaos of the Second World War. As their sons and daughters, we are the fortunate ones.
It truly hits home every November 11 – and quite frequently through the rest of the year – when my thoughts are with those who gave of themselves, often with their lives. What began as Armistice Day, the anniversary that celebrated the end of the Great War in 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, is marked each year as Remembrance Day in Canada and elsewhere, and in the United States, as Veterans Day.
As it turns out, we were able to celebrate Veterans Day this year in La Quinta, CA. In a standing room only event held in the open air courtyard at City Hall, Mayor Linda Evans and other elected officials honoured a number of veterans in attendance, and paid special homage to ten veterans (as is done each year in La Quinta), including one Marine officer who had served from 1942 to 1946. This was a 90 minute service that went by quickly; with the politicians wisely keeping their speeches brief; with beautiful renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (sung “a cappella” by two young ladies) and “God Bless the U.S.A.” (“And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free … And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me”); a fly-over at just the right moment; and the La Quinta High School band doing the Armed Forces medley including, “Anchors Aweigh” for the Navy, “The U.S. Air Force” song (“Off we go into the wild blue yonder …”), and “The Marine Hymn” (“From the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli …”).
As heartfelt as the La Quinta celebration was, home is where my heart is on November 11.
My thoughts on this day are always of my father. He gave five years in the prime of his life after enlisting to fight in the Second World War. Those were years never to be retrieved. He had wanted to become a farmer, and that was no longer possible. But he never looked back. Never any bitterness of the hardships of the years preceding the War; never dwelled (outside of his thoughts) about the friends he saw maimed or who were lost; and gave his time in later years to those who were blinded in action – something I discovered only at his memorial service (reminding me that truly charitable acts do not ask for recognition). He will always be my hero.
Poppies were being handed out in La Quinta today, with beautiful ceramic poppies given to the veterans attending the celebration. And that brings me to the poem, “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.
When I re-read “In Flanders Fields,” each November 11, my thoughts are for those brave young men; very young men in most cases, who would never return home, never marry, have children, or have anything like that lives most of have had. “In Flanders Fields” was written in 1915 by John McCrae, MD, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Dr. McCrae (above) died in France in 1918, never to return home.