“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery
The Cannon of Those Who Have Gone Down Before Us
Annette Marie Hyder
Our soldiers lie under blankets
that are made of hard cold ground
they rest their eyes on a dark-some sky
in chambers without sound.
The clean kiss of dirt
has swallowed them down and cast
from ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust’
to their final bed at last.
But it is still remembered
that theirs was the hero’s way
The memory shines brightly
on this 31st day of May .
Remembrances are candles lit
against the death of being forgot.
These fighters of ours were flesh and blood
whether tin soldiers or not.
Every tombstone is a witness,
every flag a shout to those who can hear
that the dead are not forsaken
though buried now for years.
Those who have fallen in service
drum their names to us in the way
that they are in our beating hearts —
live on in vessels of clay.
We tuck them in close and tight.
We shoot fireworks off in the night.
We party and picnic and shout and cavort.
We celebrate and our day is a fort
that shakes with the gunpowder
of our feelings, with the cannon — louder —
of those who have gone down before us
to save the ones at home.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service.
Have you seen the many people out and about in the graveyards? I’ve had occasion to drive by three graveyards (none of these was a military graveyard) since this past Friday and in each one I saw graves being tended and cared for and mementos being left.
I don’t usually notice graveyards. They lie quiet along the way, are empty of movement, avoid my gaze easily. So of course I can’t help but notice when there are so many people thronging through a place usually desolate by day or by night. I guess Memorial Day leads people to think of their dead loved ones whether they were in the military or not. I think that is a good thing.
My sister tells me that red poppies signify remembrance for the fallen soldiers and refers me to a story about how Moina Michael, inspired by the poem, In Flander’s Field, conceived of the idea to wear poppies to honor the fallen soldiers.
The Memorial Day History site reports:
In 1915, inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields,” Moina Michael replied with her own poem. She then conceived of an idea to wear red poppies on Memorial day in honor of those who died serving the nation during war. She was the first to wear one, and sold poppies to her friends and co-workers with the money going to benefit servicemen in need. Later a Madam Guerin from France was visiting the United States and learned of this new custom started by Ms.Michael and when she returned to France, made artificial red poppies to raise money for war orphaned children and widowed women. This tradition spread to other countries. In 1921, the Franco-American Children’s League sold poppies nationally to benefit war orphans of France and Belgium. The League disbanded a year later and Madam Guerin approached the VFW for help. Shortly before Memorial Day in 1922 the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to nationally sell poppies. Two years later their “Buddy” Poppy program was selling artificial poppies made by disabled veterans. In 1948 the US Post Office honored Ms Michael for her role in founding the National Poppy movement by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness on it.
So if you see red poppies being worn, that is the reason why.
In Flanders Fields
John McCrae, 1915
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.
Moina Michael’s reply:
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.