By Diane Hiller
I thought It appropriate to re-post this remembrance today.
I found the box of photos on the bottom shelf in a dusty damp corner of the basement. As I leafed through the faded black and white images that were part of the contents marked miscellaneous, I realized I had come across old photos of my father. The pictures were faded and small, but in remarkably good condition even though they were unprotected and strewn haphazardly among the other items. I had never seen these photos of him, at his air base in England. He looked like every other G.I. I had seen in pictures. It was hard to believe this was my Dad. He looked so young − they all did.
Other G.I’s were standing next to him or casually sitting on the ground in a fenced in area. Some of them were smoking cigarettes, others had their arms folded and some were smiling at the camera. My father had never mentioned these pictures and so I had no idea who the other men were in the photographs. They were probably fellow mechanics or maybe gunners or pilots on the planes. The fly boys, as Dad called them got the glory, but he didn’t mind, they also had the bigger risks. He had wanted to be a pilot. He was glad now that his mother wouldn’t let him sign up to fly. I wondered how many of those men in the picture made it home safely.
As my father grew older, he would talk more about his war memories, perhaps to make sure this personal history wasn’t forgotten and lost forever. As I have mentioned before, he was stationed on an air base in England called Deopham Greene where he worked on B-17’s. He recounted how anxious he would feel as he ran out to the field with his buddies to watch the Flying Fortresses limp home from their raids over Germany. Nervously, they would count each plane as it came back, dreading when the count was short. One day a plane made it all the way back from a raid over Germany with an engine out, only to crash-land and catch fire on the runway. He remembers the horror of pulling the crew out of the wreckage, never forgetting the men they lost that day − men that he had known.
My mother’s father, who was English, fought in World War I. He had suffered from the effects of breathing in mustard gas that the Germans used as a weapon during the war and my grandfather suffered complications from this for his lifetime. My husband’s brother served in Vietnam and we have a nephew who served in the Gulf War.
I realized after closing up the box of photos that every generation of my family since my grandfather has been touched by war, as many families have been. We were lucky and they all came back alive, many did not. Those are the men and women we honor on Memorial Day.
I admit, sometimes I get caught up in other things. I get too busy getting out the Jell-O mold and potato salad recipe; I want a day to relax and an extra day off work. Occasionally, I need to remind myself of the real meaning of the day. Here is what I learned:
The origins of Memorial Day were started when it was a day of remembrance for those who died in our nation’s service. Originally called Decoration Day, it was made official on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30, 1868. Flowers were placed on the graves of the Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.
In 1915, A Canadian Army Doctor, John McCrae was at Flanders in Belgium tending to the sick and wounded on the battlefield. He wrote the poem Flanders Field, which is now often recited at Memorial Day services across the country. The poppy is a bright red annual flower whose seed can lay dormant for years in the soil until it is disturbed, and then it germinates and grows. Ironically this is what happened on the battlefields of Flanders. The doctor was moved by the poppies growing amidst all of the death and destruction in the fields. The poem became a symbol of the war and moved two women on two different continents to do something for those affected. Anna Guerin of France and Moina Michael of the U.S. sold artificial poppies to help those impoverished by World War I. The practice of selling poppies is still happening today in many towns by veteran’s organizations. In 1971, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday and was switched from May 30th to the last Monday in May. In 2000 the White House instituted a National Moment of Remembrance to be held at 3 pm on Memorial Day, to preserve the meaning of what Memorial Day stands for.
Growing up my father always flew an American Flag on holidays and always took us to the services on Memorial Day. Because of that tradition, I have always taken my family to the Memorial Day Parade and services in Hinsdale. I have been privileged to sit on the dais alongside the war veterans and participate in the services. This Monday, take your children to see these real-life heroes, as they honor their fallen brothers and sisters.
Please join me in remembering those who have fallen by attending a service, flying your flag and visiting a cemetery to lay flowers on the graves of those who died, making the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe and free.
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.