Growing up my parents instilled in me and my siblings a great respect and admiration for the men and women who have served and continue to serve in the military. I remember standing out in the cold and snow at my town's Remembrance Days ceremonies because it was what we did. I remember being intrigued by the stories from the eras of the World War I and World War II. My maternal grandfather fought in World War II and although I would beg him to share his experiences with me, he never did. Instead he would simply say that what he saw and experienced was better left in the past. As I grew older and learned more about these Wars, I began to realize the depth of the horrors that the men and women who fought in them saw. I recall reading about men who would lay in trenches infested with mice and lice, with 2 feet of water in the bottom of the trench, turning it into mud. Themes of fatigue and hunger are prevalent in the stories. I heard first hand stories from a veteran in my hometown about watching his friends die from enemy bullets.
Every year, Canadians wear poppies to show remembrance for the sacrifices of these men and women. The history of this practice can be traced back to a poem written by a soldier during World War I. John McCrae was a Lieutenant Colonel and he wrote this poem the day after watching one of his friends die in a battle in France:
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
I remember learning this poem in Elementary school and repeating it every Nov. 11. I will never forget the Remembrance Day ceremony when I was in Grade 6 and I was chosen to lay a wreath in memory of those brave men and women. I felt so honoured. Even at a young age, I knew that the men and women of the military deserved respect. They had sacrificed everything so that we could enjoy freedom. To me, that is what the Poppy signifies. And I wear it with pride
I have been to Arlington Cemetery. What a sobering sight. Rows upon rows of white headstones marking the graves of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country. I recall standing there, in the middle of the sea of white and being moved to tears. It was then that I vowed to never let my children go a day without knowing about these people.
On the same trip, I went to the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. The second I walked into the plaza, tears sprang to my eyes. I don't think they were tears of sadness, but rather tears of gratitude. As I walked around the Memorial, I came across an old man, dressed in his military uniform. I asked him if I could take his picture. He consented. After I took the picture, I shook his hand and said "Thank you" through a tight throat and tear-filled eyes. This man looked me right in the eyes and said "It was a honour to serve."
This Tuesday November 11 marks the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. Since that day there have been numerous wars, millions of lives lost. Even as I write this, we are engaged in a war in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Wars are never popular with everyone, and one of the beauties of the freedom we enjoy is that those who oppose war have the right to express their opinion. I hope those who oppose war realize that they have that right because men and women fought and died for that right. Whether you are for or against war, please take some time in the next few days to think about these sacrifices. And if you have a chance, thank a veteran.