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Memorial Day in America 2010 – Will We Yet Hold This Torch High?

May 31, 2010


Tea Parties, renewed conservatism and strong interest in well-directed activist groups are on the rise and it is stirring to see Americans returning to the basics with such fervor. America’s renewal cannot be dissociated from her past.

Looking back to the observations of those directly involved in the great conflicts of the past is actually a way of looking forward. How is this so?

While the conflicts of today are different than those of the past when we review the actions, the bravery and the very attitudes of those who struggled in the past we see that peculiar nobility, courage and bravery that has been the hallmark of American fighting men and women since the days of the Revolution.

Nothing is as clear as the knowledge that, to ignore the sacrifice of anyone who died under color of the American flag is a deep betrayal to the nation and all it has represented to a world that has noticed the torch of freedom burning in the dark night of global conflict and uncertainty.

Lady Liberty holds the torch and while the French may not have had the words of Canadian Lt. Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem “In Flanders Fields’ in the forefront of their thoughts in the design of our greatest monument, the connection that exists between that famous poem and Liberty’s torch is indissoluble.

When as a Major, John McCrae penned the now famous poem at the graveside of slain Lieutenant Alexis Helmer of Ottawa he thought to throw the poem away. It was retrieved by another soldier who submitted it to several newspapers in England until it was finally published in a paper called Punch, December 8, 1915. Even Major McCrae could not see it at the time but his reaction to the young soldier’s actions would perfectly symbolize and immortalize the gift that every soldier lays at the feet of his nation and all its subsequent generations. Read it again and you will see this.

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.

The same breezes that blew the poppies have since sprayed the mist of many oceans across the brows of our nation’s sailors and submariners. It has blown black soot in the eyes of both soldiers and marines in the battle of Iwo Jima. It has blown the sweat of jungle heat back into the eyes of soldiers in Vietnam. The same breezes lifted the sands of the desert and pelted the faces of those who served in Desert Storm. The breezes have circumnavigated the globe following America’s fighting men and women in all places only to return to the graveyards and memorials of our fallen, there to gently blow the poppies and flowers of every sort to remind us of the charge we are all asked to share.

When Major McCrae wrote this verse he was only a few feet away from the grave of Lt. Alexis and he actually saw the blood red poppies gently bending in the breezes. He could not see that one day the poppies would come to symbolize the sacrifices of all veterans of all wars. He could not have seen the connection between the flaming torch of his prose and the torch raised high in the hand of Lady Liberty.

The torch itself is nothing but it is who hands the torch off that holds the key to its meaning. In McRae’s eyes it was the dying veteran who handed the torch to those who were alive with a call to carry it in the cause of his nation, a call sealed in his own blood.

The call to America’s roots is also a call to her foundations. The alabaster and granite headstones of our slain veterans are symbolic of the stones that are foundational to any great structure. They are what make a nation strong but more so; they exist to make a nation immovable. They are not just building blocks but they are anchors on which we depend in times of great peril or calamity. They are costly, solid, polished and usually inscribed with the names and noble acts of the donors who lay only a few feet below. Every gravestone of every soldier is a foundational cornerstone of this nation; with the name of each donor indelibly chiseled to its face.

While the headstones like cornerstones stay in their place and the poppies whose seasons come and go salute the fallen; the torch is handed off to the living. It cannot be seen by the naked eye but it is the flame that burns in the hearts of all patriots who know they must not let its flames diminish for even a moment of time.

Will America let this torch abate in these trying times? Will the fluctuations of our economy, politics and standing in the world make us lay down the torch? Everyone who loves America and understands what our veterans, alive and dead, have paid to show their love of our nation, already knows the answer to this question.

The flame will be threatened in the strong winds of change and uncertainty and its light may flicker under the encroachment of evil forces but it will never be quenched.

The living must not rest at the expense of the dead. The price of their rest is already paid but, the maintenance and perpetuity of their rest is in our hands as the words of Major McCrae so aptly remind.

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.

Rest easy veterans; we will carry the torch and we will not fail. British Statesman George Canning said it best. “When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?”

Copyright ©2010 Rev. Michael Bresciani

Rev. Bresciani is a Christian author and columnist. His articles on many important subjects are now read in every corner of the globe.

 


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