When I was a little kid, the war I was most conscious of was World War II. I was six years old at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. I had lots of uncles who served in that war -- one on the ground in Sicily, one in the air over Germany, one building a military base on the island of Peleliu, and others.
I didn't know much about WWI. I did, however, know about Armistice Day that came each year on November 11, because it was the day on which we honored the end of that earlier war. The elementary schools talked about it in general terms to us little kids; the beginning of our real understanding about it came later, when in seventh grade we had to memorize a famous poem, "In Flanders Fields" written about this war. Our social studies teacher made sure we understood what the author, Lt. Col. John McCrae, a Canadian soldier and medical doctor, was describing.
It is right that our government later expanded the observance of Armistice Day to include the honoring of all our military veterans, no matter the war or the peacetime they served in and that they changed its name from Armistice Day to Veteran's Day, although I confess to still calling it the former.
So today is the day we will honor all of our veterans. The beauty of McCrae's poem "In Flanders Field" has always been a part of that in my mind. I think it keeps World War I from getting lost among the other wars of our nation's history. And I think today of Grandpa Ed Kaufman who as a young kid fought in, and was gassed during, this war and very nearly lost his life.
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.
John McCrae wrote this poem in 1915. He died in France of pneumonia in 1918 after four years of service on the western front.