November 11th is the anniversary of the end of World War I, also known as the Great War — and is referred to as Veterans Day here in the U.S.. In Canada and many other Commonwealth countries, this day is referred to as Remembrance Day.
The symbol of Remembrance Day is the poppy, which grew in abundance in some of Europe’s bloodiest battlefields during World War I, and became the central image of In Flanders Fields, a poem written by Canadian soldier Lt. Col. John Alexander McCrae, a field surgeon assigned to the First Field Artillery Brigade after a particularly bloody battle in Ypres that started on April 22, 1915 and that lasted 17 days. After performing a funeral for his Alexis Helmer (no chaplain was available), McCrae sat in the back of an ambulance, from which wild poppies could be seen growing in a nearby cemetery, and wrote the following into his notebook:
Here’s the text of the poem:
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.
There’s only one person in my family that I’m aware of who’s performed military service, but I think his contribution is significant enough:
Pictured above is General Renato S. de Villa (retired), the 19th person to hold the title of the Phillipines’ Secretary of Defense. His military started in 1953, when he joined the Philippine Military Academy. Since then, he served as Chief of Philippine Constabulary, Director-General of the Integrated National Police, and Vice-Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. President Corazon Aquino — yup, the Philippines had a woman president before the U.S. did — made him Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, and in 1989, he defended her against coup plots in Manila by Gregorio Honasan‘s Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) and the siege of an army camp by Rizal Alih in Zamboanga City.
If you ever visit the Philippines, be sure to visit the Manila American Cemetery, the cemetery with the largest number of U.S. soldiers who died in World War II in the Pacific. It’s both a beautiful place and a great way to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.