(I originally published this in 2008. I edited it and updated it with pictures for today, the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice.)
I thought I would write a little in relation to Veteran’s Day. For the most part, it seems this holiday is somewhat forgotten in the United States. Really, American’s celebrate the same day on Memorial Day in May. I can understand the European View of holding it on the 11th of November. It is the day WWI ended.
I remember well the time I first experienced Veteran’s Day. I sat in the Eccles Ward Chapel in Patricroft, England. I sat there on 11 November 1999. The services started at 11 AM. We had the hymn, opening prayer, and a few comments by the Bishop until 11:11 arrived. It was then we took two minutes to remember what was done. Somehow those two minutes seared into my heart and soul.
Growing up in Idaho means we have little or no realization of any war. There are small war memorials inside of cemeteries and an occasional one in a park to commemorate. No war in modern days has taken place anywhere near Idaho. Even the American Civil War means little to Idahoans. My grandfather served in the Philippines during WWII but he spoke so little of it. I had Uncles and Great Uncles who perished in WWI and WWII. I have been to their graves but they are the dead, just like the other dead in the cemetery. The idea of dying for one’s country meant very little to me.
One of my first memories of England is the day after we arrived. We were taken into Altrincham Town Centre and there we proselyted for an hour on the way to the mission office. I did notice the cenotaph. I thought it rather oddly placed.
While I served in Hyde, Cheshire one of the ways we knew where to turn in town was at the cenotaphs. The same in Dukinfield. When we arrived early at a member’s house we would loiter at the cenotaph to street contact until time for dinner. Regularly I thought these things were oddly placed. I knew they were naming those who died in the ‘Great War’. For some reason or another I thought they doubled up on the names over the various cenotaphs. It never occurred to me names are not typically duplicated on these things, or if they do, the intention is not to do so.
Suddenly I found myself sitting in a church meeting remembering. These souls did not fight for my country. However I felt come into my heart a gratitude for their sacrifice. Could I do the same thing if called upon? Somehow a dawning realization came upon me of the hundreds if not thousands of names I had seen on cenotaphs in my first year in England. They were everywhere. There were continuous reminders of the dead who fought for their country.
About a month later I found myself walking the streets of Runcorn, Cheshire. There is a large cenotaph probably 15 feet tall. The bus would drive by it every day. I could not help but notice the little red, fake flowers on popsicle sticks stuck in the flower bed all around it. The cenotaph meant more to me by this point but what were the little red flowers? I noticed each of them had a name written on them and they appeared hand-made.
I asked what the little red flowers meant that were still scattered everywhere a month after the 11th of November. I was then told about Flanders Fields and the poppies. The poem was shared with me. It made sense, I felt the poignancy of it. I have a cousin, Harry Coley (1891 – 1917) who died in Broodseinde, Flanders, Belgium as part of the war. His body was lost in the mud and potholes of the war and never recovered.
The imagery is intense while the poem isn’t all that catchy to me. In fact, some of it still doesn’t make sense to me so I share only the first verse here:
In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
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.
Would I have this type of courage? Would I be willing to go and serve my country so willingly? Even if I was drafted, unwillingly? To set aside all other hopes and aspirations to serve my country? I did so to serve a mission for my church. I would think I would be willing to for my nation. While I am not entirely enamoured with my country at the present, would I still be willing to do it? Probably.
In fact, I feel some desire to serve in the military. My life hasn’t permitted the chance and my wife is against the idea. I don’t think I will be making the decision to join. But I wish to honour those who do and especially those who died in doing so. Accordingly, when I saw my clock at 11:11 this morning, I stopped for 2 minutes to remember. What does our future hold? I don’t know. But our past is nobler because of these good souls who gave all. Not only to join, but they never returned. We were on the side of right then, and our nation was preserved. I hope and pray our nation continues on the side of right and we will yet be preserved.
An Wanner uncle of mine arrived in Whitney, Idaho a year after his death in WWI. His remains arrived in a lead casket which was buried with great fanfare for the small community. WWII repeated this scenario with another Uncle, another family line, buried in Richmond, Utah. His body arrived months later and he was interred with great fanfare. May we live our lives in such a way, regardless if dying for our nation, but let us die in such a way that the community wishes to come out and pay homage for your great sacrifice for the future of man, good, and our country.