It was optimistically called the War To End All Wars. The destruction and carnage of the First World War was virtually unimaginable. More than 100,000 Americans who answered the call of their country gave their last full measure of devotion. Many of these, America’s finest sons and daughters, had never left the state in which they were born. Yet they found their last resting place to be in a foreign land. There was no way to bring them back. Cemeteries were established in France to honor their ultimate sacrifices.
In one of those battles, a Canadian officer was killed. His good friend, John McCrae, despondent at the loss of his friend, and seeing the growing number of killed and wounded, wrote a poem that has become synonymous with WWI.
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.
Flanders Fields was a nickname for all battles that were conducted on the war front of France and Belgium. McCrae was struck by the paradox that upon this sacred ground where these heroes fought, and were later buried, red poppies seemed to spring up everywhere. In a place of death, these poppies thrived. They continue to grow on these fields to this day.
The red poppy flower thus became the symbol for Memorial Day, to remember our fallen in all wars and conflicts. It is fitting. The small red flower reminds us that there is life after death. It represents hope. Amid the grave markers, the poppies grew.
The red of the flower reminds us of the true path to life. While these men and women sacrificed their blood for the freedom of nations, Jesus sacrificed his blood for the freedom of our souls. “But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8, GNT). Jesus showed us that through Him, life does not end at the grave. Life goes on.
This Memorial Day, let us take time to pray for those military families who must celebrate this day with an empty place at the table. And may the poppy flower remind us to look to the risen Christ, who is the author and finisher of our faith.
Rev. Art Pace
CH (COL-ret), USA
Armed Services Ministry