On Veterans Day we salute those who have served in the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. The poppy became a symbol of World War I dead and Armistice Day because of In Flanders Fields, the poem by the Canadian John McCrae who was a battlefield physician in Belgium in 1915.
Our honoring of Veterans Day suffers by comparison with Memorial Day, which has a similar purpose and is more widely observed as a holiday because it starts the U.S. summer season. Memorial Day also dates back further, to 1866 when a memorial was first held in Waterloo, NY to honor dead Union soldiers.
Our honoring of this day is also not what it is in Europe, where the tragedy of World War I is still a painful memory, so many young men having been killed senselessly. Their memory is evoked by The Green Fields of France, a poignant song about the fallen soldier Willy McBride. Some 250,000 Americans died in Europe in World War I, but the impact on the United States was much less devastating than on Europe, where the losses were much greater over a long period, out of smaller populations. My friend Tim Sullivan sent me the inspiring story of Alan Seeger, a Yank who volunteered to join the French and British forces after the Kaiser invaded Belgium and France in 1914. But Seeger was a rarity. The United States didn't join in the war until 1917.
So - let us pay proper tribute to the day by saluting all those who have fought for their country - and the families of those who died fighting or were wounded - and all other innocent victims of wars.
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