We did something different today on this Memorial Day. We drove to Fergus Falls and spent the afternoon at the Veteran’s Home in that city. Our main reason for going was to hear a good friend of my husband’s…and a former colleague who worked with him for several years at a Department of Labor office in the area. The two of them share a lot of special memories of working together and becoming friends. Our friend spent a good many years in the U.S. Army where he served as a Green Beret at the last of his service time. He was the guest speaker at today’s ceremonies at the Veteran’s Home in Fergus Falls. He evoked some chuckles when he said he had entered the army at age 16 in his home state of Massachusetts after "being in a courtroom situation where he had to make a choice"…..and he chose the U.S. Army over a probable stay in an old fashioned "reform school". His choice served him well for many years as he became a responsible and loyal soldier of the army of the United States til he was nearly blown apart on a hill in Korea during that war. He spend 18 months in Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C. and went on to become a part of the special forces of the Green Berets.
The whole ceremony was a tribute to the men who live in that home as aged veterans of previous wars. When they read the roll of honor at the end, it was a list of men and women who have died this past year and there were many…..the WW 2 vets are passing away at a high rate and so are their widows. We took a walk outside after the indoor ceremony and looked at the special "wall" constructed at the Veteran’s Home. It has the names of the men and women who have died while living out their lives in the excellent care of the Fergus facility for veterans.
A highlight of the ceremony was the reading of "In Flanders Fields" by a world war 2 veteran who made his way to the podium haltingly, leaning on his cane. But his voice was strong and clear as he recited the famous poem written by John McCrae at the end of world war 1 when so many American dead were buried in fields in Flanders and also 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." This poem might sound "hokey" to some of the younger generation but it was composed at a time of great national feeling and patriotism. It has been recited at thousands and thousands of Memorial Day ceremonies for so many years. I memorized it as a senior in high school and took my turn standing on the Memorial Day platform in my hometown reciting it for those gathered at a Memorial Day well over 50 years ago.
It was touching and I choked up as the elderly veteran read the poem in his strong voice. As family members came forward with a carnation for each one who had died the past year, one very old man, wept as he placed his flower in the basket; no doubt his son was one of those who died this past year…or perhaps his wife. It was hard to watch the old man weep for his lost loved one. Everyone there today had memories of a loved veteran or other family member. All of us were lost in our own memories has we heard the words of tribute, sang the Star Spangled Banner, recited the Pledge to the flag; walked to the wall of honor or watched as the old men who had been young men in earlier wars, fired the rifle volley just outside the room where the rest of us sat. These old men, some of them having trouble walking, carried themselves as proudly and as straightly as they were able, as they marched outside with their rifles to fire the volley in honor of the fallen veterans of many wars.
The speaker, our friend, surmised part way through his remarks that if the politicians who send young men to war had to go into war themselves, there would probably be much less of the agony of fighting and dying………..but he also soberly acknowleged the evil in the world which forces peaceful nations to take up arms if they are attacked or threatened by those dark forces that are ever abroad in the world.
Today we hear of a rogue nation, North Korea, defying the entire world and its laws about nuclear weapons. Tomorrow we may hear more bad news including a possible Taliban takeover in Pakistan whose nuclear weapons would fall into the hands of terrorists. There is no end to the evil that stalks the globe and peaceful countries either acquiesce or take up arms to preserve liberty and freedom. We do not know what the future years bring our way but today…just for a few minutes….we honored those who have already served and paid the high price for the peace we all crave.
I copied the etched words on the Wall at the Fergus Falls Veterans’ home today. It is called the Patriot’s Prayer: "May you go gently into the night; may you find rest from burdens and strife; may the warm fires of your patriotic heart bring you joy and help you to start on the road to that Country most real."
I thank every Veteran in this great nation for the service they have given to the rest of us. The old cliche "Freedom is not free" is well worn but it is also so true.