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'Flanders Fields' On Memorial Day For My Uncle Dude (1923-1942)

05/25/2013 02:12 pm ET | Updated Jul 25, 2013

On Memorial Day, as a child, I recall frayed old men in tattered uniforms handing out Red Paper Poppies on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. And as I dropped a dime into the bucket, a donation to the veterans of past wars, I was more enamored with the brightly colored lapel garnish than with any deeper significance.

It was tradition on this day, during the Assembly in the Auditorium of Cheremoya Grammar school, for a poem to be read, "In Flanders Fields."

Invariably, my grandmother, Catharine Mackenzie McCrae Higgins, would tell me the same story, of how her cousin, John McCrae, had written this poem during WWI. To this 10-year-old, there was a modicum of cache attached to the fact that I was a distant relative of some famous person. But "Ike" was president and we were far enough away from WWII, the "last great war," for any of this to have real meaning for me. And so, it is the Red Paper Poppy that I recall.

As the years passed, Armistice Day (the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month, marking the end of World War I), gave way to Veteran's Day and Decoration Day became Memorial Day, which in turn became "the beginning of summer."

"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 amidst the guns below."

In all true art, there is no expiration date. Words and music born out of the artists pain, become an immortal and timeless Anthem for the reader. The great gift and healing of art is this harmonic connection with our collective grief, words WE would have written if we could summon them. The perfect words. This is the healing of art. As if to say, "You are not alone. I have gone before you and I have felt your pain and I have survived." This is the legacy between the lines. Hope.

"In Flanders Fields" was a eulogy for a fallen brother. Although it was written in 1915, its significance and melancholyring even truer on this Memorial Day, in which we honor those who have made the "supreme sacrifice" for their country.

My uncle Sgt.Thomas F.("Dude") Bachom's name is carved into the cold marble of the "Wall of the Missing" in Ardennes, France. "Dude" was a radio operator and flew with the "303rd Bomb Group" known as the "Hells Angels." He was shot down over the English Channel three months after he joined the United States Airforce, December 20, 1942. He was 19-years-old.

Captain Patty Brown, whom I met only once, was a Marine and Vietnam Veteran with two tours and a Silver Star to his credit. But it was as a Captain of Ladder 3 in the FDNY that Patrick laid down his life in defense of his country, on September 11, 2001. He was 48-years-old.

For the thousands who unwittingly laid down their lives that day and for the countless 'crosses row on row' marking the lives lost in every meaningless war since, may I share a Red Paper Poppy and this beautiful poem as a prayer, in Memory of all the Blessed Souls who have passed, whom we honor today.

In Flanders Fields (May 3, 1915)
Lt Col. John McCrae
Whose body lies in Flanders Fields


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 amidst 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.

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